Kathy Castor Archives - Florida Politics

‘Morally repugnant,’ ‘cruel,’ ‘obscene,’ ‘inhumane,’ ‘heartless:” Democrats react to Donald Trump budget

Florida’s Democratic congressional caucus reacted Tuesday to President Donald Trump‘s proposed 2018 budget with a shower of outrage over cuts to Amtrak, environmental programs, food stamps, student loans, disability funding, infrastructure grants, food stamps, and Medicare, while one Republican responded: “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”

“The president’s cruel and inhumane budget should be dead on arrival,” demanded Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

If Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall has anything to do with it – and he’ll have more say than Demings or any of the other Democrats, it mostly could be.

“As the House looks to begin its own budget and appropriations process, my colleagues and I will work to ensure many of these programs remain adequately funded,” Curbelo stated in a news release that issued almost as many objections to cuts as many of the Democrats raised.

“Today’s budget proposed by the Administration does not reflect the appropriate allocation of funds to get our country back on sound fiscal footing,” Curbelo stated. “From cuts to agencies needed to protect our environment and combat the threats of climate change, to cuts to our safety nets for the most-needy Americans, to complete slashing of public broadcasting funds, this budget abandons progress already made on programs that enjoy bipartisan support.

And as he and many of Florida’s other members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats – Curbelo pledged to look out for key environmental protections.

“I’m committed to standing together to advocate for the many bipartisan priorities of our Florida delegation such as funding for transportation projects, the Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program, and Everglades Restoration,” he stated in a news release.

By early Tuesday evening, no other Florida Republicans had publicly weighed in on Trump’s budget proposal.

Democrats lined up to express outrage not just over proposed cuts, but over tax cuts and incentives offered elsewhere, to the rich, they said.

Demings pointed out numerous proposed cuts she said “would will have devastating effects on working families, women and children, and those with disabilities.”

Among items she decried: additional Medicaid cuts, together with those in the American Health Care Act, would total $1.4 billion over ten years. The Home Investment Partnership Program, which fuels efforts like Habitat For Humanity, would be eliminated. After school early learning center grants would be cut. Funding for community-based drug abuse centers would be slashed. Homeland Security grants to cities would be cut 25 percent. The Social Security Administration’s administrative funding would be reduced. Prices would be raised on student loans.

“While a balanced budget is a top priority in this country, leaving working families, seniors and children without services they need, and veterans without coverage they deserve, is not a practical solution to going about it,” she wrote.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa also found a long list of objections, calling the proposed budget, “an immediate threat to my neighbors, families and small business owners. If we were discussing the budget around the kitchen table, you would be aghast at its fundamental policy choices,” she stated in a release.

Among the items she denounced: elimination of Meals on Wheels, reduced help for Alzheimer patients in nursing homes, reduced basic living allowances for disabled people relying on Social Security SSI assistance; reductions in assistance for victims of sexual or domestic abuse and basic access to reproductive health care; a $7 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health, which she said will impact cancer treatment centers like Moffitt in Tampa; and elimination of TIGER grants to help communities with local infrastructure improvements.

“If Trump really wanted to help working families he would reject policies and budgets like this one that put his millionaire and billionaire family and friends first,” Castor added. “Instead he would invest in research, education and our crumbling roads and bridges and create jobs for families struggling to achieve the American Dream.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee also had plenty of specific beefs, adding cuts in food stamps to many of those cited by Demings and Castor.

“President Trump’s budget calls for extreme cuts to vital funding for programs that help our nation’s poor, from health care and food stamps to student loans and disability payments,” Lawson said in a news release. “It is a short-sighted plan that seeks to give tax breaks to the wealthiest while taking away lifelines for those who need it most.”

Among other reactions:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson expressed alarm over elimination of Amtrak’s long-distance routes, which include all three routes in Florida, the Auto Train running from Sanford to Virginia, and the Silver Meteor, which connect numerous Florida cities from Miami through Orlando to Jacksonville, before going on to New York.

“Eliminating Amtrak service in Florida not only affects the nearly one million Floridians who ride the train each year, it would have a real impact on our tourism-driven economy,” Nelson stated.

Nelson also sent a separate release declaring, “This plan cuts some of our most critical programs including Medicaid and food stamps. It also cuts funding to agencies such as NIH, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the EPA, which protects our environment. Slashing these vital programs will hurt millions of hardworking families. We should be focused on helping people, not hurting those who need our help the most.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg called the proposed budget “fiscally irresponsible and morally repugnant.”

“A budget is a reflection of our principles and this proposal illustrates a complete lack of values. It decimates vital programs – from environmental protections to public education to medical research. It cuts taxes for the very wealthy while leaving the poor, sick, and disabled out in the cold. It doubles down on cruel cuts to Medicaid – despite promising not to touch it. In Pinellas County where 40 percent of our children depend on Medicaid and CHIP for their care, what could be more heartless?”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park offered a similar observation, calling the budget proposal “both morally and fiscally irresponsible.

She accused it of “using smoke and mirrors to make false claims about its real fiscal impact. It also makes us less safe, cutting critical anti-terrorism programs—which hurts cities like Orlando—and slashing State Department funding during a perilous time in the world. This budget especially punishes children and families, seniors in nursing homes, college students with debt, families that rely on Planned Parenthood for life-saving health care, communities that need better roads and bridges, and all of us who depend on clean air and water.”

“Congress has the final authority over our nation’s budget, and I plan to work with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to pass a bipartisan budget that keeps us safe, upholds our values, and puts us on a fiscally responsible path to prosperity for all,” she added.

Democrat U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called the budget “a broken promise to hard-working families.”

“I call on Congress to reject this and instead focus on protecting Social Security and Medicare, fixing crumbling roads and bridges, and preparing students and workers for jobs in an ever-changing economy,” she said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando took to the floor of the House of Representatives to denounce the budget as “more broken promises.” He read some of Trump’s past statements promising to keep Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid whole; offer insurance for everybody; and a strong safety net for the nation’s farmers.

“Yet he cuts $50 billion in over ten years from farm subsidies, including critical citrus greening research dollars for Central Florida,” Soto said on the floor. “He says, I quote, ‘I’ll be the greatest president for jobs that God’s ever created.’ He’s cutting the National Institute for Health, crucial research dollars does by $5.8 million, cuts NASA by $200 million, cuts the National Science Foundation, by $776 million.”

Soto also took to Facebook, and posted: “Pres Trump unveils his heartless 2018 budget that hurts seniors, children, families and students in order to pay for tax cuts for millionaires,” Soto posted. “He cuts Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, School Lunch, Kidcare, Meals on Wheels, Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness and so many other programs critical to America’s working families. Another promise broken!”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston said the budget should be “cast aside.”

“The Trump budget ignores the needs of America’s hard-working families and brutally assaults our health care and public education system, while all but abandoning those struggling to make ends meet. It hollows out crucial commitments to housing, nutrition assistance, and the environment, along with job training and medical research investments. Yet it delivers obscene tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and relies on unrealistic revenue projections that no respected economist would embrace.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miami wanted to know: “who is the President fighting for?”

“President Trump’s budget envisions an America that has abdicated its responsibilities to its citizens; an America that takes a back-seat in innovation, education, research, and economic progress in order to funnel millions in taxpayer funding to corporate executives and special interests. His proposal continues the cruel Republican trend of targeting poor people, eviscerating nutrition assistance programs and cutting $1.4 trillion from Medicaid. All the while, the proposal relies on pipe-dream mathematics in a poor attempt to mimic sound economic policy,” he said in a written statement. “This entire proposal should immediately be rejected out of hand.”

Universal support for Robert Mueller so far from Florida’s members of Congress

Across the aisles and across the Sunshine State Florida’s members of Congress are universally praising the announcement that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead a special investigation into Russian interference in American elections.

Some Democrats, while praising the appointment and Mueller’s integrity, still called for more, including the special commission that Democrats have been pushing for in a bill in the House of Representatives. They also almost universally expressed hope that Mueller will conduct a broad investigation that includes pursuing obstruction of justice allegations against President Donald Trump.

Fewer Florida Republicans than Democrats responded Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, but those who did expressed confidence that Mueller’s appointment is the right move, and that Mueller is the right man for the job.

Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall once again got out front of other Republican in expressing concerns over Russia, going on MSNBC Wednesday night and alluding to the prospect that the Russians had American insiders helping them with their election influence operation.

“Because we all want to get to the bottom of what the Russians did to influence this election, and we need to know if any U.S. persons collaborated or colluded with the Russians, this is something that will get us much closer to the truth,” Curbelo told Greta Van Susteren on the For The Record With Greta show. “And it’s something we should be very happy about.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who’d been among the first and most vocal of Republicans to raise concerns about Russian interference last fall, but who had remained fairly quiet as news bombs exploded earlier this week, applauded the Mueller appointment, while cautioning that he still wants the Senate to run its own investigation.

“Mr. Mueller is widely respected for his independence and professionalism. I have confidence that he will conduct a fair and thorough investigation,” Rubio said in a written statement. “For the sake of the country, all parties must fully cooperate with his efforts that are focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This effort should in no way be allowed to impede the ability of the Senate Intelligence Committee to conduct and conclude its investigation into the same subject. It is my hope that these investigations will now move expeditiously.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson offered the hope that Mueller will get everything he needs.

“Bob Mueller has the experience to conduct a thorough investigation. Now, the administration must provide him the resources and independent authority he needs to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Nelson said in his statement.

Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key called Mueller “a man of integrity and independence.”

“Bob Mueller is a great choice to lead the investigation as the newly appointed special counsel. A former FBI director, Mueller is a man of integrity and independence who can be expected to conduct a thorough inquiry into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Mueller will get to the truth and give the American people confidence in the outcome of the investigation.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City called for truth.

“We should never run or hide from the truth,” Mast stated in a release. “If we seek out truth and embrace it then Americans can know we all play by the same set of rules.  I hope Former FBI Director Robert Mueller can be looked at as unbiased and his finding respected by all involved.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami called Mueller “no-nonsense.”

“I applaud the appointment of no-nonsense Mueller to lead the investigation of the negative interference of Russia in our democratic process,” she tweeted.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami said the matter deserves the attention.

“By appointing former FBI Director Mueller as special counsel, the Justice Department recognizes the attention this matter requires,” he wrote in a statement. I expect Mr. Mueller will conduct this in a professional and thorough manner, just as he led the FBI for 12 years through two presidencies.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando called the move “brilliant” but held out a demand that the commission House Democrats have been seeking still gets established.

“The American people deserve answers. The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller is a brilliant choice. Based on my knowledge of him, he will be relentless in his pursuit of the facts. He is well up to the task,” she wrote in a statement. “Now, we need an independent commission to ensure we protect our democracy and send a strong message that we will not tolerate any  interference in our elections from anyone.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park agreed, on social media posts.

“The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a positive step toward uncovering the truth. We must follow the facts,” she wrote. “However, we still need an independent commission on Russia’s interference and hacking in our 2016 elections to inform the public and to determine how we can prevent future attacks on our democracy. “

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg expressed his confidence in Mueller.

“This is a very significant step and a win for our democracy and the American people,” he declared in a written statement. “Robert Mueller has broad respect across party lines and is the right person to lead such an important and sensitive investigation. We must get to the bottom of the Russia question, letting facts guide us to the truth.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa urged everyone, including Trump, to fully cooperate with Mueller.

“The appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate potential wrongdoing between Russia and President Trump is an important and overdue step to fully uncover the extent of Russian meddling in our political system and potential obstruction of justice,” she wrote. “A fully independent investigation outside of the partisan politics of Congress is required to restore public trust. This is a tall order and I hope the Special Counsel is up to this task. The appointment comes on the heels of intransigence by Congressional Republicans who as late as this afternoon refused to bring to the House floor a bipartisan bill I have co-sponsored to establish a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the malign Russian influence on our democratic system, the Trump campaign, and his administration. I urge President Trump, all of his associates and all who love this country to be forthright and do everything they can to cooperate and aid the investigation. The American people deserve no less.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston insisted the investigation must be as broad as possible.

“I’m encouraged by the Justice Department’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia connection, and I have a deep respect for former FBI Director Mueller. Assuming he is given true independence, this appointment will remove some of the clouds that have hung over our system of justice during this deeply troubling situation. It’s certainly overdue,” she said in a written statement. “However, the investigation must include Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Kremlin’s possible ties to the Trump campaign, and the President’s alleged interference in the Michael Flynn investigation. This is a positive step, but more still needs to be done to ensure that we provide the whole truth to the American people.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said something similar in a tweet:

“Important step in Russia investigation. But any investigation must include possible obstruction of justice by POTUS,” he tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called for vigilance.

“Thanks to public outcry, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names a special counsel in Russia probe. Americans must stay vigilant,” she tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens specifically cited Trump’s presidential campaign as a target.

“The appointment of Robert Mueller to investigate possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government is a long-awaited step in the right direction,” she said in a written statement. “After a week of constant controversy, Americans’ faith in government may begin to be restored. I applaud Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for having the courage to name a special counselor, a decision that Mr. Trump has denounced as a ‘witch hunt.’ My view is that if there is no connection between the president or his campaign and Russia, he should have nothing to worry about. Mr. Mueller is widely viewed as a man of the highest integrity who can be counted on to maintain that standard. I hope he will have all of the authority and resources necessary to conduct a thorough investigation, no matter where it may lead him.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee called the appointment a step in the right direction, but insisted on the independent commission.

“Appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel is a step in the right direction for continuing the investigation into Russia’s possible involvement in our democracy, but we still need an independent commission in order to ensure a thorough investigation,” Lawson said in a written statement. “The American people deserve to know the full truth.”

 

In Tampa, public officials blast education bill, urge Rick Scott veto

A host of political and education issues came together Tuesday in West Tampa to trash the massive $419 million public education bill that GOP lawmakers unveiled and passed in the final days of the Legislative Session.

“This is the mother of all education bills, ” said Rep. Sean Shaw. The Tampa Democrat was referring to House Bill 7069, a 278-page conforming bill agreed to in secret and barely surviving a vote in the Senate before the Legislature adjourned earlier this month.

HB 7069, a massive 278-page education conforming bill that was agreed to in secret, barely survived a full vote in the Senate. Public school officials throughout the state have blasted the bill for its enormous incentives for privately run charter schools.

As a freshman who just completed his first session in the Florida House, Shaw said that the way he thought things were supposed to work in Tallahassee is that a bill is introduced in a committee and goes through other committees. Then, if it survives that process, the bill is ultimately voted on in the House and/or Senate.

Not this time.

“Not only is it filled with bad policy, the procedure with which it was done was way out of wack,” Shaw lamented.

Three members of the Hillsborough County School Board — Susan Valdes, Sally Harris and Cindy Stuart — all appeared at the news conference held at West Tampa Elementary.

On Monday, the Florida School Boards Association became the latest organization calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 7069. In addition to criticizing the lack of transparency in the crafting of the bill, the FSBA have an issue on how Title 1 dollars would be spent if the bill passed.

“The way that the state has now taken a federal law and reregulated it basically at the state level is going to siphon millions and millions of dollars away from our schools that have the highest concentration of poverty,” said a concerned Jeff Eakins, the superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District.

Another controversial provision allocates $140 million for the House’s “schools of hope” proposal, aimed mostly at encouraging charter schools with a track record of helping academically struggling students. The measure would help open branches of charter schools near traditional schools that continually do poorly on state report cards.

“So if we’re going to incentive the charter school that works down the street from a ‘failing school,’ what happens to the failing school that we’ve given no funds to get better?” asked a frustrated Shaw. “What happens in the next five years? The next 10 years?

“This harmful education bill continues to divert our tax dollars from our public schools, many going to for-profit corporations that act as charter schools,” said Tampa-area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Mindy Taylor, an advocate for the Alliance for Public Schools, says her organization is most concerned about parental engagement, increasing funding for public schools, and maintaining local control of schools.

“The provision in HB 7069 violate each of these priorities,” Taylor said.

Eakins stated that Hillsborough receives about $8 million annually for a recruitment retention program to lure nationally certified teachers to teach in some of the county’s poorest area. “That’s $8 million we will not be able to use in that particular program,” he said. “The impact is going to be real.”

Other provisions in the bill include additional funding for social services at a limited number of traditional public schools that are failing, an expanded bonus program for teachers and principals, restrictions on teacher tenure-like policies, a recess mandate for elementary schools, and the elimination of a required high school math exam.

A report from POLITICO on Monday indicated that Scott may, in fact, veto HB 7069.

“We’ve got to make sure we properly fund education, whether we have a great state college system, we have a great K-12 system,” the governor said. “We’ve got to continue to do that.”

Florida’s Democrats, Carlos Curbelo call for investigation after James Comey firing

Florida’s Democratic members of Congress are expressing outrage over Tuesday evening’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and saying it solidifies their demands for an independent investigation into ties between President Donald Trump and Russia.

In statements released last night, Democrats were using words like “disgusting,” “disturbing” and “preposterous,” even as many acknowledged that they were unhappy with Comey dating to his announced findings about Hillary Clinton‘s email scandal on the even of the 2016 election.

At least two Florida Republicans weighed in, as U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall expressed concern about the questions the Trump’s firing of Comey raises and called for a special investigation by Congress, while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach called it “the right decision.”

Typical of many of the Democrats was U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who called Tuesday,  “a dark day for justice in America,” and then went on to criticize Comey for his past actions.

“The conduct of FBI Director James Comey before the 2016 Election was certainly disturbing, and undoubtedly deserved criticism and scrutiny,” Wasserman Schultz declared. “But the reasoning and timing behind this firing is absolutely preposterous and unbelievable. It smacks of a Nixon-esque cover up of President Trump’s Kremlin ties. And with this egregious political power play, there is now no question that a special prosecutor is needed, because Americans absolutely deserve an open, independent investigation into Trump’s Russian connections.”

Some were more measured. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park said the firing, “gives rise to many questions, which I have no doubt will be examined in the coming days.

“However,” Murphy continued. “the President’s action makes one thing crystal clear: there needs to be a swift, independent and non-partisan investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Congress and the American people deserve to know all the facts, especially if we are to prevent further foreign interferences in our democracy. We should follow the evidence wherever it leads—regardless of whom it may implicate. The American people deserve an inquiry that is above partisan politics and is solely devoted to uncovering the truth.”

On the Republican side, Curbelo called the firing “an extraordinary decision that “raises many questions all of which must be answered.

“Congress and the American people need a transparent explanation as to how this decision was reached and why it was executed at this time,” Curbelo continued. “It is critical that the FBI can continue all of its pending work with independence and integrity – especially the investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to influence our last election and undermine American democracy. Today I reiterate the need for Congress to establish a Select Committee with full investigatory powers to thoroughly examine this matter.”

DeSantis stressed that the firing should rightfully remove the concerns about politics in the FBI.

“President Trump made the right decision to relieve FBI Director James Comey of his duties,” DeSantis stated. “I look forward to the President nominating a strong director who will keep the FBI focused on its core mission and out of the political thicket.”

Among other Democrats weighing in:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson:

“Now it is more clear than ever that we need an independent commission to get to the truth of Russia’s interference with our election.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa:

“President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is a blatant attempt to stall the FBI’s ongoing investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is also part of a disturbing trend — first, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is fired by Trump after informing the White House of deep concerns about Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his activities with Russia. Now, Comey is fired by Trump a week after testifying that the FBI is conducting its investigation.

“Trump may well be trying to distract the American people from the very troubling conflicts of interest, and those connections between Trump’s former national security adviser and Russia that were known about for some 18 days before Trump reluctantly fired Flynn. It is past time for an independent, bipartisan investigation. Trump may want to bury the investigation, but his presidency will continue under a cloud unless a special prosecutor or independent commission is established and the facts are fully presented to the American people.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg:

“I don’t disagree with the decision to remove Director Comey from his post given his actions over the past year. But the timing is extremely suspect given the FBI recently announced they are investigating the Trump administration for alleged ties to Russia.

“Now President Trump gets to nominate the head of the agency leading that investigation. We need a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, and the Senate must drill down to a degree like never before on whoever is nominated to replace Director Comey. The integrity of our top law enforcement agency – and our democracy – is at stake!”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando:

“The circumstances surrounding the firing of FBI Director James Comey, from the timing, to the justification, to the individuals involved, are very concerning.

“We need to restore the American people’s faith in the ability of the FBI to conduct a fair and non-partisan investigation. That starts with the investigation into the Russian interference of the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.

“It’s time for all of us to put partisanship aside, and do what’s best for the future of our democracy.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton:

“Not since President Nixon have we seen such a disgraceful abuse of power and attack on the integrity of our system of justice. During one of the most important national security investigations of our time, Director Comey’s firing is a blatant attack on the independence of the Justice Department. This behavior – firing the person who is investigating you – may pass in [Vladimir] Putin’s Russia, but it is disgracefully below the office of the President of the United States.

“This is only the latest in a string of alarming moves by the White House: first they fired acting-Attorney General Yates for calling attention to their compromised National Security Advisor, then Preet Bharara, and now Director Comey.

“Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions has lost any remaining credibility by getting involved in an investigation from which he promised to recuse himself. Given the actions of the White House, the American people unfortunately must now question whether anyone affiliated with this Administration can investigate this case of Russian influence honestly, thoroughly, and independently. We need a special prosecutor and an independent commission to continue this investigation without the whiff of political oversight or interference.”

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar:

“The FBI Director’s firing cries out for a Special Prosecutor. Up until the moment of his dismissal, Director Comey was actively investigating President Donald John Trumps’ connection to Russian interference in the 2016 election. The American people deserve to know why Director Comey was fired without reason and Donald Trump needs to explain himself immediately.”

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens:

“Like many, I was stunned to learn that President Trump has fired FBI director James Comey. This dismissal came as Comey was leading an investigation into whether individuals connected to the president coordinated with Russia to impact the 2016 presidential election.

“This abrupt action raises many serious questions and is further proof that an independent prosecutor should be named to head the Russia investigation. It also could make the possibility of such an appointment more likely. The president may think that firing Comey will help his case, but no matter who conducts the investigation, Comey will now likely be called to testify under oath and his words could do the administration far more harm than good.”

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach:

“I am no fan of Director Comey, but I’m deeply disturbed by President Trump’s decision to fire the man who is investigating him. This just goes to show that it’s now more important than ever to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in our presidential election, and possible Russian coordination with the Trump campaign.”

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando tweeted this on Twitter:

“Trump fires Comey while under investigation about Russia-Watergate all over again! #Sayfie @FlaDems @HispanicCaucus”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee posted this on Facebook:

“The American people deserve to know the truth about the full Russia investigation and we need an independent special prosecutor to oversee it. #ComeyFiring”

Charlie Crist leads Florida congressional pack in first quarter fundraising

First quarter fundraising numbers are in for U.S. Representatives and first-term Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist leads the Florida Delegation with $720,000 raised between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Crist brought in $578,000 of that money through individual contributions, while $137,000 came in through committees. He also kicked in $5,400 of his own money for his CD 13 re-election campaign. He started the second quarter with $672,000 in the bank.

Crist’s performance was far and away better than any of the other incumbent Democrats, though fellow first-termer Stephanie Murphy posted a strong $286,000 report in the Orlando-based 7th Congressional District.

She spent just $41,000, leaving her with $256,000 in her war chest at the end of the quarter.

Former Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz also broke the $250,000 mark for the quarter with $287,000 in total receipts which left her with $236,000 on hand on March 31.

The only other Democrat to break the six figure mark was Lois Frankel, who raised about $206,000 in her re-election campaign for CD 21. The South Florida Democrat spent about $65,000 leaving her with $926,500 in her campaign account on April 1.

The other Democrats didn’t fare as well. Freshman Rep. Al Lawson brought in $72,000 in CD 5, and Darren Soto raised $41,000 in CD 9. Rep. Ted Deutch raised $51,000, Fredrica Wilson brought in $33,000, Alcee Hastings added just under $29,000, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor raised just $23,500, and Val Demings has yet to file a report for the quarter.

Republicans had more incumbents breach the six-figure mark, though none were close to Crist’s monster Q1.

The top GOP fundraiser this quarter was Brian Mast, who took over the CD 18 seat from former Rep. Patrick Murphy after he decided to run against Marco Rubio for Senate. Mast was able to raise just under $430,000 and spent about $114,000, leaving him with $410,000 in the bank.

Rep. Vern Buchanan came in second among Florida Republicans with $395,000 raised. His $1.8 million in cash on hand is the highest among Republican incumbents.

Not far behind in total assets is Ron DeSantis, who despite only raising $14,500 for the quarter has nearly $1.7 million in the bank.

The bulk of the rest of the GOP incumbents hovered around the $100,000 zone in fundraising.

Gus Bilirakis raised just shy of $150,000 and has $160,000 on hand; first-term Rep. Matt Gaetz brought in $122,000 and has $129,000 on hand; Neal Dunn brought in $114,000 and has $67,000 on hand; Daniel Webster raised $105,000 and finished the quarter with $76,000 in the bank; and Dennis Ross raised $146,000 and has $126,000 in the bank.

The other incumbents are lagging behind the pack.

Rep. Tom Rooney took in $73,000 and spent $60,000 to finish the quarter with $85,000 on hand, while John Rutherford raised $45,700 and spent $16,000 for an on hand total of $32,000.

Finally, Gainesville Republican Rep. Ted Yoho raised a lowly $15,000 for the quarter and has about $100,000 in the bank.

Only 7 members of Florida’s congressional delegation hosting town halls during Easter break

(Updated) Gainesville Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho held a raucous town hall meeting Monday night, as he was jeered by members of the audience before he finished his opening statement.

“I really, really expected them to be a little more civil,” Yoho to the Gainesville Sun after the event.“This was the rowdiest crowd.”

Similar statements have been made by congressional Republicans around the country in 2017, as angry Democrats have crowded town halls in some of the most conservative parts of the country, expressing their unhappiness about GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, issues with the Trump administration, or other events since the election.

Yoho is scheduled to go back out on the road Tuesday night, where he’ll host another town hall meeting in Palatka.

However, most members of Florida’s congressional delegation don’t have any town halls scheduled over their two week break which began on Monday. According to the website townhallproject.com, only seven of Florida’s 27 Representatives have such events planned in April.

However, that doesn’t mean their staying idle during their Easter recess.

“The Congressman is in the district throughout the break,” said Gus Bilirakis spokesperson Elena Hernandez. “He’s spending a majority of the next couple of weeks meeting with constituents, holding open office hours, visiting local businesses, hosting a student government roundtable. Also he’s meeting with Pasco County officials, local doctors, touring a substance abuse center, and hosting a Veterans Resource Fair next week.”

Polk County Republican Dennis Ross was scheduled to return on Tuesday from an official congressional delegation trip to Kuwait and Iraq, where he met with members of the Florida National Guard stationed in Kuwait, as well as with the U.S. Ambassadors to Kuwait and Iraq and other government officials.

Ross spokesperson Joni Schockley adds that Ross has “multiple meetings scheduled throughout the district during the next two weeks.

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor  appeared at the USF College of Medicine on Monday, where she met with scientists to denounce President Trump’s proposed 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health. She also held a town hall at the University Area Community Center last Friday, according to her district director, Marcia Mejia.

Charlie Crist will be holding a veterans roundtable, walking in the march for science, and speaking at the rededication of the Jordan Park complex in St. Petersburg, according to spokesperson Erin Moffet.

 Florida District 11 Republican Dan Webster is one of the seven Florida congressional members who is holding a town hall this week.  He held two on Monday.

The other members holding town halls this week include Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, Darren Soto, Brian Mast, Al Lawson and Yoho.

Representatives for Vern Buchanan did not respond to our requests for comment.

Kathy Castor agrees with Hillary Clinton; misogyny played a role in her loss

In her first interview since she lost the race for president in November, Hillary Clinton said last week that “Certainly, misogyny played a role.”

“I mean, that just has to be admitted,” she told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff last Thursday night. “And why and what the underlying reasons were is what I’m trying to parse out myself.”

Congresswoman Kathy Castor agrees.

“What struck me is some interviews on TV during the campaign folks out in Pennsylvania where young people would say, ‘I don’t believe in having a female president.’ I was taken aback,” the Tampa Democrat said Monday “I don’t hear a lot of young women saying that ever.”

Castor believes “there is something that permeates this opposition to female as executives. You see it especially in corporate boardrooms.”

Castor has served in Congress for 10 years. Before that, she served on the Hillsborough County of Commission for one four-year term. When asked if she herself has had to deal with sexism in Washington or Tampa, she says, “a little bit.”

Castor serves on the Energy and Power Subcommittee in Congress, the only female on the thirty-three member large board. When she was recently called upon to ask a question, she says was addressed as “Mr. Castor.”

Meanwhile, as with most congressional Democrats, Castor came out last Friday in support of the President’s cruise missile attacks on Syria, two days after President Bashar al-Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his own people. In a statement, Castor added that she wants the president to confer with Congress on any other possible military action.

When asked what she would like to happen on dealing with Assad, Castor said a plan of action with our allies would be a good start.

“The Obama administration did a pretty good job of building that coalition to squeeze ISIS and now the pressure has to be brought to bear against Russia and Iran, who are supporting this brutal dictator in Assad,” she said. “It’s not our place to promote regime change on our own, but working with our allies in the Middle East and all across the world, really bringing pressure to bear on Assad and Iran and Russia.”

Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor want Congress consulted on military force in Syria

The two Tampa Bay-area Democratic members of Congress — Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist — say they support President Donald Trump‘s military action in Syria Thursday night. both say that the House of Representatives should immediately reconvene so that members can debate the use of military force there.

But both say the House of Representatives should reconvene immediately so members can debate the use of military force there.

That seems doubtful, perhaps, as the House is breaking Thursday for a two-week Easter recess.

“The Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian air base was an important and targeted response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” Castor said. “Russia and Iran should be held accountable as well for their support of Assad and his war on the Syrian people.”

“The continued atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad against innocent men, women, and most horrifyingly, children and infants, are an assault on humanity and must be stopped,” said Crist. “Last night’s targeted airstrikes were a proportional and appropriate response, making clear that these war crimes will not go unanswered.”

Both Democratic lawmakers say that the Constitution puts the responsibility to declare war with the Congress, and that the President should make his case before them if he is prepared to engage further in Syria.

‎”Congressional leaders, the Trump Administration and Obama Administration have been derelict in following the requirements of the Constitution and law for a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF),” said Castor. “The military strike on Syria and ongoing war on ISIS should prod policymakers to return to Washington and adopt a new AUMF.”

“Congress must also do its part and return immediately from recess to debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force to determine a comprehensive strategy for the United States and our allies,” said Crist. “We need clear objectives to end this crisis to protect our troops and the Syrian people.”

Castor has previously criticized Barack Obama for not getting an Authorization for Use of Military Force in engaging in battle with the Islamic State, criticism that some other Democrats made as well, none more loudly than Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Congressional Democrats as a whole seem to be parroting a consistent line Friday, praising Trump for the cruise missile attacks on a Syrian military base, but insisting he go before the Congress to get authorization before any further action.

Citing rising poll numbers, Florida congressional Dems urge Rick Scott to expand Medicaid

When Congressional Republicans last month attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they heard from several GOP governors, who warned them not to go ahead with a plan to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid, saying it would have a deleterious effect on voters.

Now, with new polling indicating that Medicaid has never been more popular, Florida Congressional Democrats are finding the inspiration to ask Gov. Rick Scott to again consider expanding Medicaid.

“A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too,” begins the letter penned by Sen. Bill Nelson, and Congress members Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel, Fredericka Wilson, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto.

The letter comes on the same that a new poll conducted by the University of Miami shows that two-thirds of Floridians, or 67 percent, say they favor Medicaid expansion.

Infamously, Scott said in 2013 that he initially supported expanding Medicaid in Florida, but then quickly reversed course and every year since has steadfastly maintained his opposition, despite the business community rallying behind such a move.

In 2015, the Florida Senate approved a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion; the House overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

State officials said that plan would have covered as many as 650,000 residents.

Here’s the text of the letter sent to Scott:

Dear Governor Scott:

A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia already have expanded Medicaid to provide affordable health care to working families and students. Floridians should not be placed at a disadvantage compared to other states. Indeed, a survey published today by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found that 67 percent of Floridians support moving forward with expansion to bring $66 billion in federal funding between the years of 2013-2022 to our state. Medicaid expansion will boost jobs and enable Florida to move to a more efficient health care delivery model. In fact, it is estimated that the state would have seen $8.9 billion in increased economic activity and more than 71,000 new jobs in 2016 alone. It not too late to chart a better course for the State of Florida.

Now that Speaker Ryan has declared, “[the Affordable Care Act] is the law of the land,” we should all be doing our part to expand coverage to the uninsured, improve the quality of health plans, and lower costs for everyone. Expanding eligibility to all Floridians with annual income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level–less than $30,000 per year for a family of three–is the fiscally-responsible thing to do not only for a huge number of Floridians, but also for consumers who use Healthcare.gov, for businesses who provide coverage to their employees, and for hospitals who are charged with providing care without regard to a patient’s coverage status. Insurance premiums for Americans who have private insurance are generally lower in states that have expanded Medicaid. Private insurance costs are higher in states that did not expand Medicaid because of costs of sick and uninsured are transferred to the private insurance pool according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Coverage is key, rather than costly and inefficient emergency room care and delayed treatment.

With years of Medicaid expansion already underway in other parts of the country, we have seen that other hard working Americans have benefited from improvements in health care quality and affordability through expansion. Medicaid expansion in Florida would provide over 800,000 of our fellow Floridians with access to primary care. Preventive services like screening for HIV, cancer, and heart disease will save lives, help keep our state’s residents healthier, and improve management of their chronic conditions. Providing access to Medicaid will also improve risk pools in the private market, a shift that has saved consumers in expansion states seven percent on their monthly premiums. Floridians deserve these benefits just like any other American.

Medicaid expansion also will reduce the unpaid medical bills owed to hospitals that put pressure on the state budget and our safety net hospitals funded with taxpayer dollars. Refusing to cover working Floridians through Medicaid expansion does not reduce our state’s health care costs, it just passes them on through rising premiums and tax hikes. With a third of our state’s resources already devoted to health care, the influx of $50 billion in federal funding would safeguard services from the draconian cuts currently under consideration by the state legislature. Medicaid expansion would help the state avoid the rising costs brought by Zika, the opioid crisis and mental health needs.

Throughout your time as the chief executive of our state, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has shown a willingness to work with you to find a path forward that will expand coverage to hard-working, able-bodied adults in our state. States with conservative governors around the nation have arrived at solutions that expanded Medicaid while upholding their conservative principles. If you miss this opportunity, you will chart a fiscally-irresponsible path that will cost our state billions, cost our state jobs and sacrifice the health and well-being of all Floridians.

Thankfully, Republicans in Congress abandoned their recent proposal to rip coverage away from millions of Americans including children, the disabled, and our neighbors with Alzheimer’s in skilled nursing. Like most Floridians, we realized that this was not an honest attempt at improving health care in America. Rather than continuing political games over the Affordable Care Act, we ask that you move to develop a plan for Medicaid expansion in our state to benefit the health, financial security, and well-being of all Floridians.

Sincerely,

###

 

Joe Henderson: Concern for the environment really depends on which party is in charge

The words “green space” can have a different meaning depending on the person involved.

Democrats generally believe green space to mean protected grasslands, pristine parks, waterways, and regulations to keep companies from belching pollutants into the atmosphere.

Republicans generally appear to believe green space is a metaphor for money that can be made by paving over any empty spot of land they see.

I know that’s a generalization. There are plenty of conservatives who will argue strongly for environmental protection. I put my old friend and former Tampa Tribune editorial chief Joe Guidry at the top of that list.

It is true, though, that Republican administrations often roll back environmental regulations in the name of cutting red tape that they say strangles business.

We saw it in Florida when Gov. Rick Scott gutted many environmental protections (remember the Great Algae Bloom of 2016). The GOP-controlled Legislature scoffed when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 requiring the state set aside millions of acres for conservation.

We’re seeing it again in what Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor from Tampa called “President Trump’s attack on the environment and U.S. economy through his executive order” that eliminated many of the Obama-era environment rules.

“By signing the latest in a line of dangerous executive orders, Trump is trying to dismantle America’s commitment to avert climate catastrophe and to stifle America’s clean energy future,” Castor said in a statement.

Trump’s executive order will cost Floridians a lot.  Unless we can slow the damage caused by climate change, Floridians will pay more for property insurance, flood insurance, beach re-nourishment and local taxes as the costs of water infrastructure and coastal resource protection rise.”

Castor, in her sixth term in Congress, is the vice ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She has a long track record of supporting environmental causes, including the introduction of the Florida Coastal Protection Act that established a 235-mile drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s west coast.

So yeah, this is personal.

It’s also expected.

You don’t hear many Democrats scoff about the science of climate change. And you haven’t heard many Republicans question Trump’s attempt to jump-start coal mining in the name of job creation.

The problem it, all someone needs is a long memory or access to a computer to see what environmental disregard can do to cities in this country. Have we really forgotten what happened in Cleveland when the Cuyahoga River caught fire from all the pollution?

Have we forgotten how urban smog was threatening the nation’s health? It’s still not great, but it’s better than it was.

When I was a kid growing up in southern Ohio, I remember the Armco steel mill in Middletown turning the night sky orange when workers fired up the coke plant.

We were breathing that stuff. Residents there used to apologize for the foul-tasting sulfur water that smelled like rotten eggs. These things changed because Congress decided things had to change or we were all going down the tubes.

Those laws aren’t designed to strangle business. They’re designed to protect us. People like Kathy Castor still believe that. President Trump apparently does not.

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