The Delegation for 1.26.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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Delegation members taking lead roles in spinning FBI/DOJ controversies

For a few days, legal immigration, illegal immigration and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will temporarily cede the limelight to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Plenty of material is on the way from Democrats and some in the media, many of whom believe Mueller is zeroing in on an obstruction of justice charge against members of the Donald Trump campaign team, if not Trump himself.

Ample quips and sound bites are also waiting to be launched from Republicans and conservatives in the House and Senate, who say they have evidence of malfeasance at the FBI and the Department of Justice. Some of the more conservative members of the delegation will be front and center.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has the limelight, for now.

Mueller has asked to interview Trump, who says he’s “looking forward” to it. His lawyers may have a different view.

With the revelation of thousands of text messages involving two FBI senior officials, accusations of bias against Trump intensified. Republicans believe the bias spilled over to DOJ, which they further believe led to obtaining an improper warrant to conduct surveillance of the Trump campaign and the unnecessary appointment of Mueller.

Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz has become a national leader in pounding this message across with letters, news releases and appearances on any network that would have him. This includes Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

Gaetz also crafted a letter, signed by 65 GOP colleagues, urging House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to take steps to release a memo that outlines the GOP view of the controversy. Gaetz describes the contents of the memo as “jaw-dropping and demand full transparency.”

GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis of Marineland, who serves with Gaetz on the House Judiciary Committee, has been a frequent critic of Mueller, appearing regularly on Fox News (where he announced he would run for Florida Governor). He agrees with Gaetz that the special counsel investigation should go away.

Naples Republican Francis Rooney, who signed the Gaetz letter, added a jolt to the slow news period of the Christmas holidays when he said during an interview it was time to “purge” the FBI” of anti-Trump bias. He later said the word he used was too strong, but the controversy dominated the news for days.

Keeping the story at the top of the news this week was the revelation the FBI was not able to save thousands of text messages from multiple phones. They blamed a “glitch.”

Democrats believe the noose is tightening around Trump. They counter that the Nunes memo is merely a “distraction” from the fact Mueller is getting closer to an obstruction of justice charge every day.

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch is also gaining national prominence by commenting in the media on several issues. While not being a lone voice on the Trump investigation, his membership on the Judiciary Committee has allowed him to be a vocal defender of Mueller and insisting that the special counsel receive no outside interference.

Whatever happens over the coming days, weeks, or months, it will be difficult to turn on a national cable outlet and not find a member of the Florida delegation putting their spin on the controversies surrounding the Trump investigation.

That is true until the days leading up to February 8, when the next government funding deadline looms.

 Nelson most popular among swing state Dems seeking re-election

Florida’s senior Senator, running for a fourth term in November, has seen Florida polls have showing head-to-head matchups with Gov. Rick Scott appear tight for the 2018 election. A new poll released Wednesday is certain to make him and his supporters feel better.

The survey by Morning Consult showed Nelson with the best net-approval ratings of any senator running in a swing state this year. The survey, conducted in the fourth quarter of 2017, was summarized in “Morning Consult’s piece “America’s Most and Least Popular Senators.”

In the new Morning Consult Senator Approval Rankings for the fourth quarter of 2017, Bill Nelson remains the most popular in that group, with a 25-point net approval.

The numbers reveal that Nelson has a 51 percent approval rating in Florida, and a 26 percent disapproval rating, meaning a net approval of 25 points, by far the best of any senator up for re-election this year in a tight state. Nelson lost only two points on his net approval during the year.

Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, with the next highest net approval rating with plus-18, lost four points during the year. Ten of the 11 highlighted senators seeking re-election in what Morning Consult defined as swing states are Democrats.

Though not running for re-election, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio received an approval rating of 47 percent with 37 percent disapproving. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, showed 32 percent approval and 53 percent disapproval among Bluegrass State respondents.

Morning Consult reported it surveyed 253,393 registered U.S. voters from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017. Margins of error varied depending upon the states; Morning Consult reported a margin of error of just 1 percent for its ratings of Florida’s senators.

Rubio asks for more sanctions against Venezuelan officials

As the Venezuelan economy slips deeper into crisis mode, the two-term Republican senator wants Trump to impose even more sanctions on key members of the ruling regime. Earlier this week, Rubio wrote to Trump asking him to follow the actions of the European Union and sanction 7 individuals, especially the former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

The seven targets are accused of undermining democracy in Venezuela and carrying out human rights abuses. Cabello is now a leading member of what is described as “the illegitimate Constituent Assembly.”

In his letter, Rubio commended Trump for imposing sanctions on members of the Maduro regime, but asks him to take similar steps to those announced by the EU.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, left, and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

“I believe your administration can — and should — take stronger actions to support the Venezuelan people’s struggle to reclaim their democracy from the (President Nicolas) Maduro regime’s dictatorship and restore their country’s constitutional order,” Rubio wrote.

“An important next step would be for your Administration to impose sanctions against Diosdado Cabello for human rights abuses and undermining democracy in Venezuela, just as the European Union did (Monday),” he added.

Rubio and Cabello have a history. In August, a reported death threat against the Senator came from Venezuela with Cabello mentioned as possibly having a role.

Nelson to join Schumer for Texas fundraiser

Still smarting from criticism coming from the left-wing of the Democratic Party, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer heads to Houston this weekend to lead a fundraiser designed to help Democratic incumbents or candidates for four swing seats. Sen. Nelson, seeking a fourth term, is one of the four.

The fundraiser is scheduled for Saturday morning in Houston and will include Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen. O’Rourke is running against Republican Ted Cruz, while Rosen is challenging GOP Sen. Dean Heller.

Republicans took the opportunity to mockingly link Nelson and the others to Schumer by reminding them of the three-day government shutdown.

Chuck Schumer, Bill Nelson will pass the hat in Texas this weekend.

“Friends who shut down together, stick together,” quipped Ryan Patmintra, Florida director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He was referring to Nelson’s initial vote to shut down the government Friday night, although Donnelly was one of a handful of Senate Democrats to vote with Republicans to keep the government open.

Schumer, and to some extent, Nelson, must win back the trust of progressives who were incensed with Democrats’ decision to end the shutdown without getting a deal for Dreamers.

“This deal was morally reprehensible and political malpractice. It’s Senator Schumer’s job to keep the caucus together and fight for progressive values. He failed in that today,” said Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin. “The big blue wave Schumer hopes will make him Senate majority leader in 2019 will not build itself.”

An invitation to the fundraiser allows for individuals to contribute to 2018 Senate IMPACT, a Democratic Senate Super PAC.

Rubio salutes Senate’s approval of religious freedom ambassador

Rubio was among those celebrating the confirmation of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to the post of ambassador-at-large for religious freedom. Brownback will head the Office of International Religious Freedom contained within the State Department.

“I am heartened that the critical post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom will now be occupied by Governor Sam Brownback,” Rubio said in a statement. “At a time when religious freedom is under assault globally, filling this post with a qualified, committed individual has never been more urgent. Governor Brownback brings years of experience and stature.”

Marco Rubio is celebrating the naming of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas to head the Office of International Religious Freedom.

Rubio chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that forwarded Brownback’s nomination to the Senate Floor. Once on the floor, the final vote did not go smoothly.

Brownback, a former Republican Senator before running for Governor, drew the ire of the LGBT community over prior statements. That, along with responses during his appearance before the committee, led all 49 Senate Democrats to oppose his confirmation.

With two GOP Senators absent, the vote stood at 49-49, forcing Vice-President Mike Pence to rush to the Capitol to cast the tiebreaking vote. It was the eighth time Democratic unity has forced Pence to break a tie.

In contrast, former Vice-President Joe Biden was not called upon to do the same even once during his 8 years serving with President Barack Obama.

Most delegation members seek answers on offshore drilling

When Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced in Tallahassee that Florida was “off the table” for future oil drilling, some breathed a sigh of relief while others expressed skepticism. Count Democratic Sen. Nelson among the latter, immediately firing off a letter to Zinke asking him what “off the table” means.

Despite Zinke’s assurances, and that Gov. Scott believes Zinke is a man of his word, things became more confused last week. A senior Trump Administration official testified before a House committee that Zinke’s statement “is not a formal action.”

That prompted most of the delegation to join Nelson in seeking formal action. Rubio and 22 of Florida’s 27 delegation members from the House wrote a letter to Zinke on Wednesday seeking clarification.

Florida’s congressional delegation is demanding answers from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“In light of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Walter Cruickshank’s recent statement before the House Natural Resources Committee that the Planning Areas off Florida’s coasts are still under consideration for offshore drilling, we write to reiterate our strong opposition to any attempt to open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling,” the lawmakers wrote. “We object to any efforts to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling, and we urge you to remove this area from the five-year plan immediately.”

The letter also cites the “critical” nature of the Eastern Gulf Test and Training range for training missions for F-22 and F-35 pilots. And on the eastern side, facilities like Patrick Air Force Base, Kennedy Space Center, and the Jacksonville Naval Air Station would be impacted.

Nelson has called Zinke’s announcement “a political stunt” designed to benefit Scott, who is expected to mount a challenge to Nelson’s run for a fourth term.

“Secretary Zinke has made a commitment and he’ll live up to his commitment,” countered Scott.

In addition to both Senators, all 11 Democrats signed the letter. Most Republicans signed on with the exception of Ted Yoho, Tom Rooney, Daniel Webster, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

It should be noted that not signing the letter does not necessarily indicate a lack of support for the letter’s goals.

CD 6 race heating up even before DeSantis departs race

The Republican from Marineland has not even officially left the race for District 6, but fireworks are already going off among those seeking to succeed him. The expected Democratic nominee, Nancy Soderberg, is accusing one of the Republicans in the race of blaming her for the 9/11 attacks.

In a fundraising email entitled “Dick Cheney‘s adviser is blaming me for 9/11,” Soderberg seemed to be targeting comments made by Mike Waltz, a Republican who entered the race last week after an extended pre-candidacy. When asked on Fox and Friends about the challenge posed by Soderberg, Waltz said he welcomed the debate with Soderberg, citing September 11, 2001, in his comments.

Former Lt. Col. Michael Waltz, a frequent Fox News contributor, is the latest to jump into the CD 6 scrum.

“We look at what happened in our foreign policy under the Clinton years, that ended up leading to 9/11 and of the mess we are dealing with today,” said Waltz, a former Green Beret who served in various theaters in the Global War on Terror.

Waltz was a former adviser for South Asia issues for former Vice-President Cheney. Soderberg was quick to point out that fact.

“One of my potential challengers on the Republican side is Dick Cheney’s former adviser — and he’s trying to blame ME for 9/11,” wrote Soderberg, calling the gambit “very Cheney-esque.”

She appeared to take Waltz’s statement on the Clinton years personally. In 2001, Soderberg was appointed Alternate Representative (carrying the title of Ambassador) to the United Nations by President Bill Clinton.

In addition to Soderberg, Waltz took incoming from a fellow Republican. On behalf of Waltz, spokesman Tim Baker linked Soderberg’s broadside with an attack from primary opponent John Ward, who welcomed Waltz to the race by painting him as a “Never Trump” Republican.

“Soderberg and John Ward are political twins, devoid of positive ideas of how to make America great again, instead basing their campaigns on attacking a decorated combat veteran less than 24 hours after he announces his desire to continue defending America and serving his fellow citizens. It’s sad really and the people of District 6 deserve better,” Baker asserted.

Webster nears $3 million in returned taxpayer funds

The Central Florida Republican announced that for the 7th year in a row, his office is returning savings to the taxpayers. In 2017, Webster returned $400,000 of his allotted office expense.

Washington operates on the principle that if money is appropriated, it should be spent,” he said in a release. “During my service in Congress, I have exposed this flawed principle. Over the past seven years, I have returned more than 30% of the money appropriated to run my office.”

In dollars, that comes to $2.9 million.

“If every area of the federal government began intentionally cutting waste, we could get a lot closer to balancing our budget and trimming the massive burden of debt that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren,” he added.

Webster earlier this month also announced he was writing a check to the treasury by returning a portion of his salary. He has done this for 7 years to keep an ongoing pledge to only accept a salary at the 2008 level, when he was first elected.

Crist remembers Deepwater Horizon in crusade against oil drilling

The freshman Democrat from St. Petersburg has been an advocate against offshore oil drilling during his public career. In an op-ed published by the Tampa Bay Times, Crist offers a recent reminder as to why.

“I was governor of Florida when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April 2010,” he wrote. “Over the next three months, more than 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico.”

Crist was weighing in on the controversy surrounding Secretary Zinke’s claim that, despite a Trump Administration senior official saying otherwise, Florida is now “off the table” for future oil and gas exploration off its coast.

Charlie Crist evokes Deepwater Horizon in the offshore drilling debate.

“The administration has also left the door open to seismic testing around Florida,” he continued. “Why would the Interior Department conduct seismic tests for oil and gas deposits if drilling is truly “off the table”?

He repeated his call for a constitutional amendment to permanently ban drilling off Florida. Crist first forwarded the idea while serving as governor.

Earlier this week, he was one of 24 delegation members to sign a letter asking Zinke for clarification on what “off the table” means.

The bottom line: We must remain vigilant,” he said. “Despite Zinke’s words, Florida remains in the draft oil and gas plan — and it is unclear when or how that will change.”

Buchanan protests rollback of drilling safety regulations

The Longboat Key Republican and co-chairman of the Florida delegation, has given Secretary Ryan Zinke something else from Florida to read. Buchanan and delegation members are upset over another issue related to drilling.

Buchanan fired off a letter to Zinke, urging the agency to preserve offshore drilling safety regulations adopted after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The letter is a formal protest to the proposed weakening of federal rules requiring better emergency shutdown systems, new guidelines regulating acceptable drilling pressures (preventing surges and potential blowouts similar to what occurred in the Deepwater Horizon spill) and improvements to other offshore drilling safety and pollution prevention equipment.

Vern Buchanan is anything but smiles in the fight to prevent offshore drilling in Florida waters.

“Now is not the time to place lives and our environment at risk by lifting these important safeguards,” Buchanan wrote, adding that if the current rules were in effect in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon blowout may not have occurred.

Buchanan recently signed onto a letter from a bipartisan group of 21 Florida congressmen opposing any rollback of safety regulations adopted after the fatal Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. Buchanan also is disputing the Interior Department claim that the current safeguards present “potentially unduly burdensome requirements” to the oil industry.

“If these safeguards are so burdensome then why is the oil industry enjoying record profits,” Buchanan asked. “The U.S. is currently producing over 10 million barrels of oil per day — a level we have not reached since the 1970s, rivaling the world’s top producer, Russia.”

Pelosi, Wasserman Schultz rip GOP tax plan at South Florida town hall

The Democrat from Weston welcomed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to a town hall held at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. The former chair of the Democratic National Committee and former Speaker of the House used the stage to bash the recently enacted Republican tax reform plan.

Sponsored by the FAU College Democrats, Pelosi and Wasserman Schultz were before a friendly audience. Both were harshly critical of the tax plan and both repeated a Pelosi characterization of a few weeks ago that everyday Americans were only getting “crumbs.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are blasting the GOP tax plan in a South Florida town hall this week.

“One of the unkindest cuts of all is to pass a massive, massive tax scam bill that gives away the store that was written by their wealthy donors for their wealthy donors,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It’s so obvious what their agenda is when they make the tax breaks permanent for the wealthy and the giant corporations and they give essentially crumbs … for the middle class.”

Pelosi spoke of the pay bonuses, many in the range of $1,000, going to employees of companies around the country. She described the breaks going to “fat cats” and also called the bonuses, after taxes, “crumbs.”

Also addressing the audience was Orlando Democrat Darren Soto, who said the plan is “a tax cut for the rich that is going to be passed off as a tax cut for the middle class, and don’t you believe it.”

Following the event, Pelosi was set to host a South Florida fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Brown loses bid to delay prison sentence

Having lost another round of appeals, the former Democratic Representative from Jacksonville will be reporting to prison on Monday. Both the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan in Jacksonville denied Brown’s request to remain free while her appeals play out.

“This court has already fully considered the issue,” Corrigan wrote in his order. “Ms. Brown is asking the wrong court. She should direct her request to the Eleventh Circuit.”

Corrine Brown with another swing and a miss in her bid to stay out of jail.

Brown did that as well, but a three-judge panel denied the request and told clerks to treat any subsequent appeals as a nonemergency.

On May 18 Brown was convicted of multiple felonies involving tax fraud and other financial crimes stemming from the use of a charitable organization as a personal slush fund. The former 12-term Congresswoman was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison.

Brown has until noon to report to federal prison.

Ballard Partners DC has strong first year

It was a great start for Ballard Partners DC office. In fact, it was a great year for K Street lobbying firms.

Launching shortly after Trump’s election as President, Brian Ballard planted his flag in Washington, saying some of his Florida clients wanted representation before the federal government. Ballard, the firm’s president, pushes back on those who criticize the move, saying it was all about cashing in on his ties to Trump.

“We came here with a different path, by clients who wanted us to come to DC,” Ballard told POLITICO. “I kind of came reluctantly and I get the criticism. It’s fair criticism. But we have a job to do.”

Brian Ballard has nearly ten million reasons to smile.

Ballard will credit the quality of his DC team, which led to signing up 44 clients and hauling in $9.91 million in lobbying fees in the firm’s first year.

Among those clients were Amazon, American Airlines, the government of Turkey, Uber, Mosaic and US Sugar, to name a few.

The firm has not yet cracked the top 20 revenue-generating firms, but it may not take long. Ballard made POLITICO PLAYBOOK’s “Power List of 18 to watch in 2018.”

Crossroads Strategies came in at No. 20 with 2018 revenue totaling $11.67 million. The top generating firm was Akin Gunter, et al with revenues totaling $38.78 million.

Métier tops Washingtonian list of best restaurants in the DMV

Washingtonian is publishing its 2018 “100 Very Best Restaurants” issue this week but readers can get a small taste of the list by taking a look at the top-25 restaurants across the District, Virginia, and Maryland.

Métier, an intimate tasting room in the hip Shaw neighborhood of DC, earned the top spot in this year’s issue. The intimate tasting room started by veteran DC chef Eric Ziebold and wife Célia Laurent beat out more than 300 eateries anonymously visited by Washingtonian’s staff.

Métier is tops in D.C.

“The husband-and-wife duo are both veterans of the famed French Laundry, and it shows in the details — including canapés in the firelit salon, Ziebold’s pitch-perfect riffs on French standards (cassoulet is done up with lobster and dashi), and surprise haute milkshakes to finish,” Anna Spiegal and Ann Limpert wrote in their mini-review.

The “unforgettable” dining experience at Métier was followed by longtime favorite Komi in the No. 2 spot and Del Mar, a new Spanish spot at the Wharf, came in third — the paella with lobster, prawns, calamari and mussels made the front cover, too.

Best sushi? Sushi Taro. Best in Maryland? Kobo. Tops in Virginia? Field and Main. Looking for great food without a stuffy fine-dining atmosphere? Check out Chiko, where chefs Danny Lee and Scott Drewno “take fast-casual to new heights” at their Chinese-Korean joint on Barracks Row.

Check out the quick-hit reviews on the top-25, and look for the full issue starting Friday.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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