Florida’s storm-battered citrus growers are closer to landing federal relief sought since Hurricane Irma devastated large parts of the state’s agriculture industry in September.
The U.S. House on Wednesday will consider providing $2.6 billion for lost farm crops as part of an $81 billion disaster-relief package, which has been attached to the latest short-term “continuing resolution” needed to keep the federal government open.
The overall relief package, nearly double the amount requested in November by the White House to aid communities recently damaged by hurricanes and wildfires, comes after Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said last week there was no “plan B” for the state’s citrus industry without federal assistance.
“Today’s announcement of proposed emergency funding for Florida agriculture is the first bit of good news we’ve heard in months,” Putnam said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
If the package passes the U.S. House on Wednesday, it then would go to the Senate for consideration.
Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott have pushed Florida’s congressional delegation to attach assistance for the citrus industry to post-storm relief packages.
“I am glad to say we finally cleared the first major hurdle by securing this funding in the latest disaster supplemental bill,” U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican who is the only Floridian on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, announced late Monday.
The Florida agriculture industry, which Putnam’s department estimated took a $2.5 billion hit from Hurricane Irma, was left out of two earlier disaster-relief packages approved by Congress.
Florida is expected to get a large part of the money for farmers, with crop losses covered for citrus growers.
The biggest parts of the relief package are $27.6 billion that would go to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster-relief account and $27.8 billion for community development block grants that could be used toward flood prevention and infrastructure repairs.
Another $12.11 billion would go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repair damage from the natural disasters and to bulk up facilities from future risk, including $537 million for flood control and coastal repairs.
Another $3.99 billion would help public and private schools handling displaced students.
Florida citrus growers, including many in the southwestern part of the state who were hit hard, incurred an estimated $761 million in damage from Irma. However, that estimate from early October is expected to top $1 billion as flood damage to trees continues and as harvest numbers drop.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, said the funding will help the industry, which before Irma had been fighting citrus greening disease and is now on pace for its lowest harvest since the 1944-1945 growing season.
“We finally reached a deal that will help Florida farmers recover from the storm with $2.6 billion and prevent these jobs from going overseas,” Ross said in a prepared statement. “While we still have a long road ahead, I’m glad that Florida citrus will have a fighting chance.”
Also Wednesday, the Florida Citrus Commission will discuss shifting about $556,000 from reserves — nearly matching the amount in its reserves as of Oct. 31 — to cover programs in the current fiscal year.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
Thursday is the last day of the highly active, deadly and destructive 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, but Floridians will feel its impact for years.
Politicians are still scrambling to determine how much of the next state budget will be dedicated to covering losses that may or may not be paid by the federal government.
The massive hit from Hurricane Irma caused direct physical and emotional impacts in Florida, and ripples continue to come ashore as thousands of people flee Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Lawmakers are also looking at regulatory changes for nursing homes and debris-removal companies, as well as changes dealing with issues such as evacuation lanes, shelters and a potential state fuel reserve.
Gov. Rick Scott, who was a constantly visible face before and after Irma struck, said Monday while in Tampa that he’d like to boost the availability of propane for generators before the 2018 storm season.
“You always learn something,” Scott said. “Everybody had generators. This last time we started running low on propane. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. But everyone did a good job. Highway safety, we kept the fuel going.”
Visit Florida spent $5 million to tell potential tourists that the state quickly reopened after Hurricane Irma, even as scars from the September storm remain etched across agricultural fields and the Florida Keys.
Meanwhile, 72 deaths in Florida are currently attributed to the Irma, according to reports supplied by county medical examiners to the state Division of Emergency Management.
The fatalities include 14 cases involving carbon monoxide, eight drownings, four electrocutions and 14 incidents involving blunt-force injuries. Deaths occurred statewide, with six in the Florida Keys, five in Duval County and even two in Leon County, which sustained relatively little damage from Irma compared to other parts of the state.
The numbers don’t include 14 deaths of residents of a Broward County nursing home — 12 were recently ruled homicides — that have caused Scott to push for new rules requiring nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to have emergency generators.
Members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness will meet Monday and discuss potential storm-related recommendations for the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January. Among the possibilities are legislation about housing, agriculture tax relief, hardening for emergency-operations centers and management of shelters.
“Obviously, there will be short-term things that need to be taken care of in the immediate, upcoming Session,” committee Chairwoman Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican, said. “And then, as we saw back in (Hurricane) Andrew, or during the ’04-’05 season, Legislatures will deal with this issue for years to come.”
Hurricane Hermine in 2016 was Florida’s first direct hit from a hurricane in more than a decade. But Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and traveled up the state, was far more destructive.
Mark Wool, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Tallahassee office, called 2017 the busiest for the Atlantic since 2005.
“We didn’t have any things working against tropical cyclone development like in recent years,” Wool said. “There was no El Nino in effect, which tends to suppress things. Didn’t see a lot of dust coming off Africa. We had a very warm ocean and the depth of the warm water was quite large. And all of those things tend to fuel development of a lot of storms.”
Emergency-management officials each year stress preparing for hurricanes. But Wool said the flatness of Florida requires additional vigilance by coastal communities against flooding, as the state is also experiencing a period of rising sea levels.
“Parts of South Beach are flooding now without any storms. Blue skies, tidal flooding, the king tides,” Wool said. “We’ve seen times in the historic record where we’ve had large fluctuations in sea level, and we’re certainly on the upswing.”
As of Nov. 13, more than 830,000 property owners across the state had filed claims for $5.88 billion in insured losses from Irma, which was one of four storms — Tropical Storm Emily, Irma, Hurricane Nate and Tropical Storm Philippe — that had a direct impact on the state during the six-month hurricane season that closes Thursday.
Emily in early August made landfall on Anna Maria Island and quickly was downgraded to a tropical depression. Nate brushed the western Panhandle on Oct. 8 as the center of the storm came ashore near Biloxi, Miss. Philippe brought rain and couple of tornadoes to the Southern part of the state as it made landfall Oct. 29 with 45 mph winds in Southwest Florida.
Overall, there were 17 named storms this year. The most devastation came from Harvey’s Aug. 26 landfall in Texas, Irma’s double landfall and run-up of Florida starting Sept. 10, and Maria’s destruction of utilities and other infrastructure across Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.
While spinning in the Atlantic, Irma reached maximum sustained winds of 185 mph, a pace it held for a record 37 consecutive-hours. Nate also set a record in October for the fastest forward motion recorded for a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We certainly did establish some records,” Wool said. “Harvey’s rainfall established a new rainfall record for one system in the United States. I think some areas had 60 inches of rains, which was phenomenal.”
Irma also set new benchmarks for evacuees — an estimated 6.5 million people left their homes in advance of the storm — and power outages and restoration crews. Florida Power & Light, for example, reported 90 percent of its customers — about 10 million people — were without power on average 2.3 days.
The agriculture industry has put a preliminary estimate of $2.5 billion on its losses from the storm.
However, Florida leaders have yet to convince the White House and Congress to include an estimated $761 million in losses to the citrus industry in a series of disaster-relief packages this year.
State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam again implored Florida’s congressional delegation on Tuesday to support U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney‘s proposal to add $1.5 billion for Florida’s agricultural industry to a $44 billion disaster-relief request sent to Congress on Nov. 17 by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
While awaiting federal assistance, Scott authorized a $25 million interest-free loan program for citrus farmers.
Visit Florida, meanwhile, directed $5 million from its tourism budget for a special post-Irma marketing campaign, and Scott has requested lawmakers boost Visit Florida’s marketing dollars from $75 million in the current year to $100 million because of the need to have post-disaster marketing money readily available.
Despite the state saying tourism numbers continue to climb, hotels remain closed in parts of the Keys, where housing issues have grown for workers after Irma devastated a number of areas outside of Key West.
The Islamorada Resort Company, which hired more than 500 construction workers to repair storm damage at four locations on the islands, is reopening the first of the four on Dec. 15 and the second a month later.
“We are thrilled to welcome guests back to our slice of paradise,” said Eddie Sipple, the company’s area general manager.
Florida farmers in 44 counties may be eligible for federal loans to help cover damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced.
Still, Florida might have to wait months for broader federal assistance to the agriculture industry, which sustained more than $2.5 billion in losses from the storm.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue notified Gov. Rick Scott on Friday that the federal agency determined that Florida had sufficient production loss to warrant a “secretarial natural disaster designation” for most of the peninsula.
The designation makes farmers eligible to be considered for Farm Service Agency programs, including emergency loans, Perdue wrote in a letter to Scott. Farmers have eight months to apply for the loans.
“FSA considers each emergency loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of production losses on the farm and the security and repayment ability of the operator,” Perdue wrote.
The federal designation names 19 counties as “primary” natural disaster areas and 25 as being in “contiguous” counties. Farmers in primary and contiguous counties are eligible to apply for loans.
The state on Sept. 28 had requested the primary designation for 19 counties. Irma made landfall in Monroe and Collier counties on Sept. 10 and then barreled up the state.
Under Perdue’s designations, the primary counties are Alachua, Bradford, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Gilchrist, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Marion, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Osceola, Palm Beach and Sumter.
The “contiguous” counties are Baker, Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Hardee, Hernando, Lafayette, Levy, Manatee, Martin, Okeechobee, Orange, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, St. Lucie, Sarasota, Seminole, Suwannee, Union and Volusia.
A preliminary report from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released Oct. 4 estimated that citrus industry losses from the storm approached $761 million. The state’s vegetable, nursery, cattle, dairy, sugar, non-citrus fruit and timber crops all were impacted by the massive storm.
“By making more federal help available, combined with our Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program, we are giving farmers a way to immediately address the losses they incurred during Hurricane Irma,” Scott said in a prepared statement.
Scott has authorized a $25 million interest-free loan program for citrus farmers.
The federal designation also came as Florida officials have turned their attention to the U.S. Senate, which this week is expected to take up a $36.5 billion disaster-relief package directed at hurricane damage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the ongoing wildfires in California. The money doesn’t include agricultural assistance for Florida.
The House on Thursday did not attach a measure to its relief package to cover losses incurred across Florida’s agricultural landscape. The measure was proposed by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican whose district covers rural lands northwest of Lake Okeechobee.
Putnam, a former congressman who is running for governor, told reporters Thursday that the federal assistance may not be available until early next year if the Florida agricultural funding isn’t added to the current relief package.
“If we’re not in that one, it could be as late as mid-December before the next one moves,” Putnam said “And then when you back that up from how long it would take to implement a program to get assistance out the door you’re looking at well into the first quarter of next year before growers are seeing any relief.”
Putnam, expressing concerns that foreign growers could make inroads into Florida, criticized the “traditional” disaster relief programs as “wholly inadequate.”
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
Florida farmers may have just experienced the biggest crop loss event in state history, but Florida Sugar Farmers is determined to bounce back.
“Our rural farming communities will recover, replant and we will grow again after #HurricaneIrma,” the group said on Facebook Thursday.
Florida Sugar Farmers included a video with the post that intercut descriptions clips of USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam and other public officials describing the record damage Irma brought to Florida’s agriculture industry.
“The devastation of this storm was probably greater and more catastrophic across this state than anything we’ve ever seen, and that’s what we want to come here to rectify,” Purdue said in the video. “We’ve flown over from Orlando down to see all the groves and the vegetables and the shade houses destroyed and roofs off dairy barns and things like that.”
Putnam, who is running for Florida governor, said the storm was a “widespread disaster that’s more than just what you’ll feel at the produce section of your grocery store.
Flanked by Putnam and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the video also included a clip of Perdue saying his department will “expedite as much as possible” whatever help they can pull together while appealing to Congress for more Irma relief.
“These people are used to getting up after they’ve been knocked down,” Perdue said. “They’ll do it again, but we need to help ‘em and that’s what USDA is going to do.”
In the same post as the video, Florida Sugar Farmers praised Perdue, Putnam and Rubio, as well as U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Tom Rooney, state Sen. Denise Grimsley for being elected leaders who support Florida farmers.
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.
Florida U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park have joined the board overseeing the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
The two Florida members of Congress were appointed in May to congressional seats on the academy’s Board of Visitors, which in many ways the equivalent of a Florida university’s board of trustees.
The board held its first meeting since their appointments on Monday, with Murphy and Rooney in attendance.
The U.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.
Rooney, a Republican, and Murphy, a Democrat, were both appointed by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. Both 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, and U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, and six presidential appointees.
State Attorney Brian Haas is endorsing Republican Ben Albritton in the Florida Senate District 26 seat now held by Denise Grimsley, who is forgoing re-election for an Agriculture Commissioner bid.
“Ben has the right convictions and values to serve our area well,” said Haas, who serves the 10th Judicial Circuit covering Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties. “He believes, as I do, in holding criminals accountable for their actions to keep our community a safe place to live, work and visit. He also understands the importance of early intervention to keep our youth on the right track. I look forward to Ben’s continued leadership in the Florida Senate.”
Haas was elected State Attorney in 2016 after a stint as Chief Assistant State Attorney under Jerry Hill. A graduate of Bartow High School, Haas earned a bachelor’s degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine and a law degree from the University of Florida.
Over his career, Haas has prosecuted a range of crimes from misdemeanors to capital felonies and was assigned to the Special Prosecution Division at the State Attorney’s Office, where he prosecuted cases involving sexual crimes against children.
“Brian Haas is an outstanding servant-leader,” Albritton said in a campaign statement. “He values people and treats everyone with the fairness and respect they deserve. I greatly appreciate Brian’s endorsement and look forward to continuing to work with him for the betterment of our area.”
Haas’ endorsement of Albritton comes on the heels of the recent endorsements by U.S. Reps. Dennis Ross and Tom Rooney.
Albritton was first elected to the Florida House in 2010, where he has been a conservative advocate for entrepreneurs and children in Florida’s foster care system. He served as chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and vice chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee.
Albritton, term-limited from running for re-election in 2018, serves as chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.
District 26, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 43 to 34 percent, covers parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, as well as all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.
President Donald Trump signed a bill into law aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees.
The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.
The measure — which passed the Senate on a voice vote, and the House on a 368-55 vote earlier this month — had the support of VA Secretary David Shulkin, and received significant bipartisan backing, including from Sen. Bill Nelson.
The bill signing comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. The agency has been plagued with problems, and critics have complained that too few employees have been punished over the years.
“We have seen scandal after scandal come out of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and today we turn to a new chapter. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act puts meaningful reforms in place to ensure VA employees are fulfilling their duty to serve veterans,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the vice chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in a statement Friday. “If a VA employee is involved in misconduct, they should be demoted, suspended, or fired. Certainly not promoted or given a bonus. If a VA employee sees misconduct and wants to report it, they should not fear retaliation. This legislation is common-sense, and strongly bipartisan.”
Bilirakis wasn’t the only member of Florida’s congressional delegation who applauded Trump for signing the bill, Rep. Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican, called the measure a “necessary reform” that was “long overdue and is essential to ensuring that our veterans are receiving the very best care.”
“This new law makes clear to VA managers: get the job done, or make way for someone who can,” he said in a statement. “Our veterans deserve better, and it’s time for serious accountability and oversight. I’m hopeful that we are providing Secretary Shulkin with the tools he needs to run the agency properly.”
Trump promised to reform the VA on the campaign trail, and cast the bill signing as a fulfillment of a campaign promise.
“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” he said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.
Ben Albritton is receiving the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who represents Florida’s 17th Congressional District.
Albritton is seeking the District 26 seat in the Florida Senate, now held by Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.
“Ben Albritton is a tireless and dedicated servant leader committed to strengthening our communities,” Rooney said in a statement Friday. “I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Ben on issues important to our region, and I am confident he will continue the tradition of excellent representation Denise Grimsley has provided.”
Rooney was elected to Congress in 2008, and he sits on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He chairs the Subcommittee on the National Security Agency. His district includes nine counties, spanning from Florida’s Heartland to the Gulf Coast.
“I am honored to have the support of Congressman Rooney,” said Albritton. “When it comes to defending agriculture, reining in big government, and supporting small businesses, there is no question we have a champion in him. I plan to fight for those same issues in the Florida Senate.”
In 2010, Albritton was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he has been a staunch advocate for entrepreneurs and children in Florida’s foster care system. He is also known for his strong conservative record on Second Amendment rights and protection for the unborn. He is the Chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee, and he currently serves as the Chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.
With Grimsley’s decision to not seek re-election, District 26, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 43 to 34 percent, is an open seat. Centered in Florida’s Heartland, the district covers parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, as well as all DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.
Polk County Congressman Dennis Ross is one of four members of the Florida GOP delegation on the baseball team attacked by a gunman Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, but he wasn’t at today’s practice.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot, and multiple congressional aides were also hit by a gunman with a rifle who opened fire at a GOP baseball practice. Scalise is reported to be in stable condition.
Five people were “transported medically” from the scene, Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown said; however, it was unclear how many people had been shot.
“Cindy’s and my thoughts and prayers are with Whip Scalise, the staff, the Capitol Police officers, and the family and friends of those hurt,” Ross said in a statement. “Our deep appreciation goes out to the Capitol Police and local law enforcement officers for their protection.”
A spokeswoman for Ross said the representative did not attend practice this morning and was doing fine.
Florida Republicans Matt Gaetz, Tom Rooney and Ron DeSantis also play on the team.
DeSantis, who represents Florida’s 6th Congressional District, says he had a “very strange” encounter in the parking lot with someone who wanted to know if they were “Republicans” or “Democrats” playing baseball.
DeSantis was leaving the field with Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina with a man approached them.
“As I was getting into the car with Duncan, a guy came up to us and asked if it was Republicans or Democrats out there,” DeSantis told Fox News. “It was a little odd. He was not carrying anything at the time. There was no one that was obviously walking around with a rifle.”