President’s big announcement trumps all other news of the week
We are now 46 weeks into the Trump administration and 48 weeks into the 115th Congress. Each week it seems there are constant breathless reports, leaks, fake news, real news, or just enough fodder to keep the talking heads talking.
This week, however, may have been the most momentous five days of all. On Wednesday, the House took an actual vote on a call for impeachment proceedings (see below), but that wasn’t even in the top two of the week’s happenings.
The rising voices of women wronged by sexual harassment grew louder with the resignations of the longest-serving member of the House (Michigan Democrat John Conyers), Trent Franks of Arizona, and Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken. In announcing his resignation, which would come in the “coming weeks,” Franken wondered aloud about Tuesday’s election in Alabama involving GOP candidate Roy Moore as well as President Donald Trump, who has also been accused of impropriety.
A once-in-a-generation tax cut is now being brokered by House and Senate negotiators. The House is on the verge of seeking a contempt citation against the FBI Director and the Deputy Attorney General (see Two Florida Republicans).
But in a week of big news, the biggest came from President Donald Trump with a move that will have long-lasting ramifications. Wednesday’s announcement of the U.S. intention to move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem brought nearly universal condemnation around the world, but a good measure of bipartisan support at home.
Republicans and Democrats alike hailed the move.
Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross said the U.S. needed to “send a clear message to the world that we support Israel and recognize Jerusalem as its eternal capital. Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis, who pointedly criticized Trump for putting off the move a few months ago, tweeted “With President Trump’s announcement, the U.S. is finally following through with what Congress enacted in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.”
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a joint statement. Ros-Lehtinen is the chair and Deutch is the ranking member of the subcommittee overseeing Middle East affairs.
“The President’s decision today is a recognition of existing U.S. law that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the U.S. Embassy should be located in the capital,” the statement said. “There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection.”
West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel said Trump’s decision “is consistent with current U.S. law and reaffirms what we already know: Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz fully agreed with Trump’s move while adding Jerusalem “should remain accessible to people of all faiths.”
Not everyone in Congress agrees, fearing terror attacks or hurting the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. But when the actions of a U.S. President become the story of the week just by following the letter of a law passed 22 years ago, then we know it’s a big deal.
Government funding issue comes down to the wire
With the government set to run out of funding on Friday, word of a two-week extension rattled through the halls of Congress earlier in the week. Achieving that seemingly simple goal was turning out to be more difficult than expected for Republicans.
Speaker Paul Ryan believes he will have the votes to pass the two-week continuing resolution, but as of late Thursday afternoon, nothing was certain. All the GOP would say was “we will get this done, with or without the Democrats.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would pass a two-week extension “if and when the House acts.”
Meanwhile, Trump was meeting with leaders of both parties trying to work out a two-year budget deal. Trump does not want to tie the fix to the younger undocumented immigrants to the budget deal.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was positive about progress being made on a budget deal in the Congress, but is setting the stage to blame Trump if a shutdown occurs.
“Unfortunately, the progress here in Congress is in stark contrast to the rhetoric coming from the White House,” said Schumer. “President Trump again suggested yesterday that ‘a shutdown could happen.’ If a shutdown happens, as the president seemed to be rooting for in a tweet earlier this year, it will fall on his shoulders. His party controls the Senate, the House, and the presidency.”
Late Thursday afternoon, the House passed the two-week extension by a vote of 235-193.
Nelson seeks more solar for Sunshine State
Florida’s senior senator is trying to solve a riddle. Why does the Sunshine State rank below 11 other states in terms of using solar energy?
That is something he is trying to rectify through legislation he launched this week. If enacted, Bill Nelson’s bill would allow banks to hold 20 percent ownership in non-banking industries, such as renewable energy companies.
Current Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) regulations allow only 5 percent ownership. Nelson’s legislation would also allow banks to provide more financing to individuals seeking to make the change to solar.
“Florida is the nation’s Sunshine State but ranks twelfth when it comes to solar production,” Nelson said in a release. “That needs to change. This bill will make it easier for homeowners to invest in their own solar installations while, at the same time, making it easier for larger renewable energy companies to access the capital they need to expand and create more jobs in Florida.”
Jobs are also a target of the bill. With nearly 500,000 people employed in the solar industry nationwide, only 15,000 work in Florida.
Rubio sees four bills move to Senate floor
The two-term GOP Senator had a productive week in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Marco Rubio, the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing transnational crime, human rights and democracy, saw four bills he sponsored or co-sponsored advance through the full committee at Tuesday’s meeting.
Rubio was the lead sponsor of the North Korea Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2004, which updated the 2004 law calling for greater human rights and freedom in North Korea. He co-sponsored, along with a bipartisan group of 20 colleagues, the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act, which seeks restitution for assets stolen from Holocaust victims or their families.
Two resolutions co-sponsored by Rubio also moved forward. The World Press Freedom Day Resolution recognizes threats to freedom of the press and expression around the world, while the Resolution Condemning Iranian persecution of the Baha’i Community calls out the religious persecution of 300,000 members of the Baha’i faith.
“I applaud committee passage of these important bipartisan bills and resolutions, and urge my colleagues to support them on the Senate floor,” Rubio said in a statement. “From advancing human rights to protecting religious freedom, and promoting press freedom to facilitating the return of stolen Holocaust-era property to their rightful owners, the United States should continue to lead on these issues.”
Trump in Pensacola on Friday
While Trump often spends time in South Florida at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach County, North Florida has not been on the agenda. That changes on Friday when he stops in Pensacola for a rally.
The rally will take place at Pensacola Bay Center at 7 p.m. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the GOP Congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District, will travel on Air Force One with Trump and speak at the event.
Pensacola is close enough to Alabama for some to speculate Trump chose the location to not only talk to Panhandle residents, but for those considering their vote in the Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate. Trump has endorsed the Republican candidate, Judge Roy Moore, who has been accused of improprieties involving teenage girls nearly 40 years ago.
“I think they’ll be able to hear us in Alabama from the Bay Center,” Gaetz told the Pensacola News-Journal. “In the other three Trump rallies we’ve had in Pensacola, thousands of people from Alabama have attended, and this likely will be no different.”
The Alabama election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is Tuesday.
Three Florida Democrats vote to pursue Trump impeachment
Despite pleas from House Democratic leadership not to pursue impeachment against President Trump at this time, 58 members voted to do just that. With 364 voting to table the measure, the effort died.
Three Florida Democrats, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, voted to pursue impeachment proceedings. Frankel explained her vote.
“(Wednesday), I voted against a motion to table, or in other words stop, a resolution calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump,” she said on Facebook. It is my opinion that many of the actions of Mr. Trump during his presidency, including many of his numerous tweets, reflect unfitness for office and violation of the United States Constitution. I believe that it is in the best interest of the American people that the matter be taken up by the appropriate committees with an opportunity for full debate by the entire Congress.”
Texas Democrat Al Green’s articles of impeachment did not allege Trump has specifically committed a crime. Instead, Green argued that Trump has “brought disrepute, contempt, ridicule and disgrace on the presidency” and “sown discord among the people of the United States.”
Among several stated reasons for impeachment was the disparate treatment of hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, as opposed to Florida and Texas; Trump’s response to the NFL kneeling protests and “personal attacks” against Wilson.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland both voted to table Green’s effort, saying the time is not right. They said ongoing investigations by Congressional committees and the Russia investigation led by special counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller needs to play out.
House passes concealed carry bill largely along party lines
This week the House of Representatives passed a controversial bill that will allow those with concealed carry weapons permit to do likewise in other states. The vote was 231-198.
The passage of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 earned high praise among Congressional Republicans, including Neal Dunn of Panama City. In his remarks supporting the measure, Dunn brought up the case of a Pennsylvania woman, who was licensed to carry in her state, but spent 40 days in a New Jersey jail for having a concealed weapon in her vehicle.
“This bill ensures valid concealed carry permits in one state are valid in all states that permit residents to do so,” Dunn said. “This bill creates legal protections for law abiding gun owners against states that violate this statute.”
Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford praised the bill on the House floor saying that as a former sheriff “I want good people carrying firearms.”
On the other side, Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schulz said: “This NRA-backed lunacy threatens the safety of our communities, our families, and our friends.”
Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson claimed the bill “will surely exacerbate already tense situations and create major challenges for law enforcement officers. Why is giving the NRA a win more important to (Republicans) than the potential loss of life — and lives already lost — to gun violence? Shame on them!”
All Florida Democrats voted against the bill, joined by Republicans Carlos Curbelo of Kendall and Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. Every other Florida Republican, except Palm City’s Brian Mast, was among the bill’s 213 co-sponsors.
Two North Florida Republicans frequent critics of FBI leadership
The leadership of the FBI is taking on an increased amount of incoming fire from Republicans who believe the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and possible collusion with Russia involving President Trump and associates are unbalanced. Two Floridians have become familiar faces in that and additional scrutiny of the country’s top law enforcement agency.
Rep. Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach has been a national leader in changing the narrative toward Democrats. He has called for special counsel Robert Mueller to recuse himself over conflicts and, demanded a special counsel to investigate the circumstances that led to the Uranium One deal, and called for an investigation to look into what he describes are two unbalanced investigations.
Gaetz stood with several Republicans Wednesday calling for increased scrutiny on the way the FBI conducted the Clinton email probe and the Trump investigation. Recent revelations that a lead investigator on both matters was demoted for anti-Trump bias prompted the pushback.
“We are here today calling for an investigation into FBI systems and procedures that have allowed special treatment and bias to run rampant,” Gaetz said at the Capitol Hill news conference. “The law demands equal treatment for all, not ‘special’ treatment for some. There is a clear and consistent pattern of treating the Clinton investigation differently than other investigations.”
Gaetz joined his GOP colleague, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, to lament the “special treatment” of Clinton in an op-ed posted on FoxNews.com.
Rep. DeSantis of Ponte Vedra has also become a familiar face on television as well as print and online media. This week he made news by revealing what he claims was more evidence of political bias at the FBI.
Both DeSantis and Gaetz are members of the House Judiciary Committee, who heard from new FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday. They had several questions of their own concerning an outside investigation into the reports of bias at the agency.
Next week, the committee will have some questions for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has come under fire from Republicans for not being responsive to requests for documents. Both Wray and Rosenstein are under threat of contempt of Congress for the slow response.
Gaetz on the Fox News Channel’s Hannity, with U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, to discuss their call for an investigation into the FBI’s “special” treatment of former Secretary of State Clinton.
Democrats lining up behind Murphy’s CHIP extension bill
The stature of the first-term Democrat from Winter Park is rising in her party as she plays a leading role on a high priority issue. With the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other health programs expiring, Murphy has introduced a reauthorization bill that is becoming the Democrats’ favored vehicle facing Republican alternative measures.
On Tuesday Murphy introduced House Resolution 4541, which would reauthorize CHIP, community health centers funding, and other critical public health initiatives like the Special Diabetes program, the National Health Service Corps, and Family-to-Family Health Information Centers.
Congress has missed a September 30 deadline to reauthorize these programs.
The bill offsets its costs by tweaking the timing, not the amount, of Medicare Advantage and prescription drug benefits payments. It also addresses issues confronting Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria.
“A healthy nation is a strong and resilient nation,” Murphy said in a release. “My fiscally-responsible bill provides support for children and families, invests in the prevention and treatment of serious diseases, helps our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and other territories, and strengthens the health care systems in states like Florida that are welcoming Americans displaced by Hurricane Maria. It’s vital that we work across party lines to help the tens of millions of Americans, including millions of children, who depend on these public health initiatives.”
There are several Republican and Democratic alternatives addressing CHIP and the other health programs. Murphy’s office said her bill has become the favorite among Democrats, drawing numerous Democratic co-sponsors already, including Darren Soto of Orlando.
Webster files bipartisan disaster preparedness bill for care facilities
The Republican from Orlando has joined with Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell to file legislation that ensures disaster preparedness for hospitals and long-term care facilities. The Worst-Case Scenario Hospital Preparedness Act comes in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season, which ravaged portions of Florida and most of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The storms caused flooding and power outages at medical and care facilities in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean. A significant loss of life resulted, including 14 residents of a Hollywood, Fla. nursing home.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security lists health care as one of 16 critical infrastructure sectors. The bill seeks to improve emergency preparedness in the health care sector by directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to engage with the National Academy of Medicine to conduct a comprehensive study into the future threats impacting emergency preparedness procedures for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other health care facilities.
“Disaster preparedness is critical for protecting lives, improving resiliency and being good stewards of disaster relief dollars,” Webster said in a release. “The bill is a practical approach to ensuring that hospitals and long-term care facilities across the nation are more resilient against natural disasters.”
Tax bill conference underway; Castor one of House conferees
The House and Senate have named their representatives to the conference committee that will attempt to create a final bill for consideration. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor was appointed to join the group by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“During my years representing the Tampa Bay area in Congress, I haven’t seen a bill that is more unfair and unwise,” Castor said in an email to constituents. “The battle earlier this year over health care and narrow focus on the huge tax giveaway have crowded out action on other important legislation so the GOP must cram everything into the last few weeks of the year.”
Neither Democratic Sen. Nelson, nor GOP Sen. Rubio was appointed by Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, or Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. While both Florida Senators would have been pleased to serve as a conferee, Rubio likely relished the chance to further solidify the expanded Child Tax Credit for which he and Utah Republican Mike Lee have so strongly advocated.
GOP leadership has targeted a final bill be brought to both chambers before the end of the year.
Trump honors survivors, victims of Pearl Harbor attack
Thursday was the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. To honor those who perished that day, Trump signed a proclamation signifying Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
A half-dozen veterans of the attack joined the president at the White House, including 98-year-old Mickey Ganitch, who was about to play in a football game for his ship’s team when the attack came on that Sunday.
“We had a war to fight,” Ganitch told Trump.
“Today our entire nation pauses to remember Pearl Harbor and the brave warriors, who on that day stood tall and fought for America,” Trump said.