The Delegation for 1.30.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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The TV show known as State of the Union airs tonight

Tonight, President Donald Trump will offer his first official State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. Last year’s appearance was known as “an address to a joint session” due to the fact he had been in office for only a month.

Republicans will leap to their feet as Trump ticks off the accomplishments of his first year. Vice-President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan, seated directly behind him, will likely be on their feet just as often as they are seated.

Donald Trump is ready for the TV spectacular formerly known as the State of The Union.

Democrats will mostly remain in their chairs just as Republicans did when President Barack Obama was doing the talking. They see little to celebrate, especially the recently-enacted tax cuts/tax reform package that Trump will tout as the most important achievement of his first year.

The State of the Union is all about the presentation and the show. It is just as much an hour-long campaign commercial than it is a call for unity to get things done.

All the Constitution requires is for the President to “from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Over the past two decades, Presidents bring in people with significant accomplishments or a common person story to sit in the presidential box for recognition. This plays well for television, which brought in cameras for the first time in 1947.

Official responses by the party out of power are now a regular feature. One of the more memorable messages came in 2013 when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was forced to reach for a bottle of water in mid-speech of the GOP’s response to Obama.

Democratic Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy, will deliver this year’s response from his party.

Members are permitted to bring guests to speech. Many of the Democrats chose to let their constituents and the media know who will be their guests.

Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg is bringing a medical marijuana patient while Ted Deutch of Boca Raton is bringing the wife of an American held hostage in Iran. Lois Frankel from West Palm Beach is hosting a trailblazing anti-sexual harassment advocate.

Orlando area Democrats Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy are bringing Puerto Rico evacuees, while Val Demings is bringing a police officer who responded to the Pulse nightclub massacre. Al Lawson, who represents the area from the Panhandle to Jacksonville, will host the executive director of a Jacksonville regional community development organization.

Others choose to make political statements by announcing they will skip the event. Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson is among a handful who will sit this one out. She gave her guest ticket to Frankel.

As the SOTU has become more made-for-television, the interest of the people has waned somewhat. Back in the day, viewers had fewer options once the speech pre-empted their regular favorite programs, but now there are ample alternatives on the multitude of cable networks.

President Bill Clinton’s first address to Congress in 1993 drew 66 million viewers. President George W. Bush’s second State of the Union in 2003 was watched by 62 million, the only other speech to top the 60 million figure.

Obama’s 2009 message had 52 million viewers, but his total dropped with each succeeding year. Trump was watched by 47 million last year.

With such a deep political chasm that divides our politics, how many will bother to tune in this year?

Rubio fires chief of staff for ‘improper conduct’

The two-term Republican senator made news over the weekend with the surprising firing of his chief of staff, Clint Reed. In a statement, Rubio said he took the action due to what he described as “improper conduct” by Reed.

Rubio pointed out the allegations from his staff members came directly to him and he was learning of the issues “for the first time.” He flew to Washington on Saturday to end Reed’s employment.

Clint Reed, former chief of staff to Sen. Marco Rubio. (Photo: Facebook)

According to multiple accounts, some Rubio staffers complained they were threatened with a withholding of employee benefits. No further details were provided.

“Pursuant to the wishes of those victimized by this conduct, we will not be disclosing any further details about the incidents which occurred,” Rubio said.

Reed, an Arkansas native, was appointed chief of staff in January 2017.

Nelson: Airline hidden costs punish travelers

The three-term Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee wants the traveling public to know that the major airlines’ offers of basic economy rates are often not what they seem. In a report to be released, the major airlines are attempting to compete with low-cost carriers by slashing prices for some seats, but charging fees for other services like carry-on baggage.

Bill Nelson was featured on an NBC news segment that features the report which is going out under Nelson’s name. Nelson states that his goal is to create something in the nature of a consumer alert.

Delta is the only carrier to allow a free carry-on bag with basic economy fares.

“(Airlines) are entitled to make a good profit,” he said. “I just want the traveling public to know exactly what they’re getting.”

What they are not getting with basic economy is a free carry-on bag (with the exception of Delta) or the ability to select a seat in advance. It is highly unlikely these passengers would have the opportunity to sit with family members or companions.

“While “basic economy” airline fares may seem like a good deal, they may end up costing you more,” Nelson said.

Delegation reacts to Trump immigration proposal

It won’t be long before the Congress and the national news media will be focusing on immigration, both legal and illegal. An end to the three-day government shutdown brought out a promise to vote on — not pass — the status of approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants (DREAMers) in this country after being brought here at a young age.

While February 8 was a deadline for a vote established by the agreement to reopen the government, Trump previously gave Congress until March 5 to develop a legislative fix to the issue. He rescinded former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order.

Donald Trump’s immigration plan draws criticism the Florida delegation.

If Trump sought to turn up the volume on the discussion, he did so with his proposal last week that would provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers while ending what is known as chain migration and the “immigration lottery.” His plan also included $25 billion to build a border wall.

Reaction from within the delegation ranged from support, to caution, to opposition.

“The reaction, from both sides, to the President’s outline is a reminder that the more an immigration bill tries to do, the harder it is to pass,” GOP Sen. Rubio said in a statement. “With only five weeks to go before DACA expires, if an agreement can’t be reached on a broader bill, Congress should at least address the most immediate problems. We cannot allow unrealistic and unreasonable expectations to lead us down a path of failure.”

Democratic Sen. Nelson agreed with Rubio when he said “If you start putting in all of these highly charged toxic issues, it’s just not going to work,”

“(I)t is now clear the President and his Administration fully embrace the idea of securing a future in America for young immigrants brought to our country as children through no fault of their own,” said Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo. “In fact, the section on DACA closely tracks the Recognizing America’s Children Act I filed this Congress and in the 114th. It also diverges significantly from partisan legislation recently introduced in the House.”

Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said the “administration is putting forward a serious proposal” on the issues of border security and DACA, “something that cannot be said of previous administrations.”

Miami Gardens Democrat Wilson lamented using DREAMers as “bargaining chips” for Trump’s plan crafted by “anti-immigration hardliners (Chief of Staff) General John Kelley and (Trump adviser) Stephen Miller.

Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz said: “there is a way to strengthen the border and our border security without blowing $25 billion on a wall that the President insisted Mexico would pay for.”

Border Patrol raid stirs controversy

raid on a Greyhound bus by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents last week stirred a storm of controversy in South Florida. Several members of the Florida delegation joined colleagues from other states to express their outrage.

The agents boarded the bus in South Florida and took away a Haitian grandmother who could not prove she was in the country legally. It was later determined she had overstayed her visa.

The manner in which the woman was removed was roundly criticized by immigration activists and many members of Congress. After a video taken by a passenger was circulated by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the legislators issued a joint statement.

Video of an immigration raid on a Greyhound bus is causing outrage in Congress.

“We were appalled to see U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents abusing their mandate and authority to arbitrarily board a bus to demand that all passengers produce identification and documentation,” they said. “We support strengthening our border protections against external threats and bolstering our officials in their work to keep Americans safe. However, arbitrary and disruptive enforcement actions like this do not make our communities safer.”

Democrat Deutch of Boca Raton led on the issue and was joined by Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Wasserman Schultz of Weston, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens represented the Broward delegation in the statement. Other Florida Democrats joining the statement included Soto of Orlando, Kathy Castor of Tampa and Lawson of Tallahassee.

Wynn becomes GOP’s Harvey Weinstein

With Republican National Committee (RNC) Finance Chairman Steve Wynn’s resignation on Saturday, Republicans now face a dilemma similar to that of Democrats following the Harvey Weinstein saga. Wynn stands accused of “decades” of sexual harassment, or worse, just as Weinstein was months ago.

Republicans loudly insisted Democrats return campaign contributions from the Hollywood mogul, who contributed almost exclusively to Democratic candidates. Now, Democrats are turning the tables by making similar demands for Republicans to give back contributions from Wynn.

Steve Wynn is the Republican Harvey Weinstein.

There is at least one Florida connection. Wynn backed Republican Rubio’s campaign for president and contributed to his Senate campaigns.

Democrats are demanding the RNC and Republicans like Rubio return funds donated by Wynn in the same way they pressured the Democratic National Committee to do the same with Weinstein cash. If the RNC follows the model established by their Democratic rivals, they will donate those funds to Republican-leaning groups.

The DNC shuffled the money to liberal groups such as Emily’s List. Republicans harshly criticized them for doing so.

A large majority of Wynn’s donations went to Republicans and GOP organizations with some going to Democrats before he took the RNC position. The RNC, Republican National Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) received contributions in excess of $1 million between them.

He also contributed $30,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Rubio was the only Floridian reported to have received money from Wynn.

Gaetz pleased with McCabe resignation

When news broke that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was stepping down, it did not take long for Republicans to react. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, one of the harshest critics of top FBI and Justice Department leadership, was among the first.

“The news that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is stepping down is a step forward,” Gaetz said in a statement. “The past several weeks and months have seen worrisome evidence of bias and wrongdoing at the FBI come to light, including Peter Strzok’s ‘insurance policy’ that was discussed in ‘Andy’s office.’

Matt Gaetz is pleased with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s resignation.

“This behavior is not befitting of America’s premier law enforcement agency, which, like Justice itself, must be impartial,” Gaetz added.

Gaetz has scrutinized what he and other Republicans perceive to be a tilt toward Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign from the FBI and the Department of Justice, and McCabe stepping down will allow the White House to select someone more attuned with Republican views on these organizations.

“The FBI must do what it can to move forward with a clean slate,” Gaetz said. “McCabe’s resignation was the right choice, and a step in the right direction.”

DeSantis officially launches campaign for governor

The conservative Republican from Marineland made it official on Monday; he is running for governor.

“We’re running and we’re going to win this race,” he told supporters gathered at a Boca Raton ballroom.

After introductions from his colleagues, Palm City Republican Brian Mast and Resident Commissioner (Congresswoman) Jenniffer Gonzalez of Puerto Rico’s New Progressive (conservative) Party, DeSantis ticked off a number of federal issues he has supported, or continues to support.

Ron DeSantis makes it official.

He finally got around to the state issues that he will need to master as he runs for the GOP nomination against Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and expected candidate Richard Corcoran, Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Along with speaking broadly on education and job creation, DeSantis made an indirect reference to Putnam and Corcoran, saying “We can’t have the insiders pick the candidate in 2018. We need someone who is going to follow (Gov.) Rick Scott’s legacy and shake things up.”

DeSantis made sure to emphasize his endorsement by Trump and conservative radio commentator Sean Hannity. Both own homes in Florida.

Yoho faces primary challenge

The three-term Republican from Gainesville has picked up a primary opponent as he seeks a fourth term in the fall. Self-styled “new Republican” Judson Sapp is launching his campaign to unseat Yoho two years before he reaches his self-imposed limit of 8 years in Congress.

“I am more convinced than ever that the beginning of 2018 places us at a crossroads as a nation,” Sapp asserted in his announcement. “Our Congress has not been delivering its promises.”

Sapp bemoans the “constant roadblocks by a group of Congress … people from both parties who refuse to make deals and choose obstructionism even when the future of our country is at stake.”

Yoho, a horse doctor by trade, can relate to the challenges facing Sapp. In 2012 it was Yoho playing the role of the inexperienced challenger to 12-term GOP incumbent Cliff Stearns.

Yoho defeated Stearns in a shocking primary upset that “reverberated nationally” at the time.

Sapp will enter the race with a large financial disadvantage. Yoho had accumulated $315,000 in campaign cash through September 30 and will likely show much bigger totals when FEC campaign finance reports come out this week.

Demings announces $13 million grant

With Central Florida, as well as the rest of the state, absorbing vast numbers of displaced American citizens from the Caribbean following two hurricanes, the first-term Democrat from Orlando announced assistance from the federal government. The state received a National Dislocated Worker grant to help individuals and the state cope with the influx.

The grant will assist post-hurricane evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to find new jobs, including disaster relief employment to assist with cleanup and recovery. Florida has received thousands of evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since those U.S. territories were hit back-to-back by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Val Demings announces $13M in grant money for Americans displaced by Caribbean hurricanes. 

“This is an important step toward restoring stability for thousands of Americans displaced by this year’s devastating hurricanes,” Demings said in a release. “Our post-hurricane effort should focus on two goals: first, we should ensure that every Puerto Rican and Virgin Islander who wants to stay in Florida can find prosperity and security here. Second, we should give displaced families from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands the opportunity to return to reconstructed and thriving homes.”

The grant will be administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Implementation in Demings’ Congressional District 10 will be carried out by CareerSource Central FL.

“We greatly appreciate the time, energy, and hard work by our local, state, and federal leadership in gaining additional resources to supporting transitioning the Hurricane Maria evacuee population into jobs in our region,” said CareerSource Central Florida President and CEO Pam Nabors.

Ross names new chief of staff

The Republican from Lakeland announced a change at the top of his leadership team on Monday by naming Kyle Glenn as his new Chief of Staff. Glenn, who has served as the Deputy Chief of Staff, succeeds Anthony Foti.

“Kyle’s return to our team will be a boon for the work we do on behalf of Floridians,” said Ross in a news release. “With Kyle in this role, we can renew our focus on fighting to reduce the size and scope of the federal government and strengthening our economy.”

Kyle Glenn, the new chief of staff for Dennis Ross. (Photo: Washington Examiner)

The release from Ross’s office did not mention a reason for Foti’s departure, nor did it mention him by name.

Ross also named current Legislative Director Timothy Cummings as Deputy Chief of Staff. Cummings will serve in both roles.

Ross is the Senior Deputy Majority Whip for House Republicans.

Crist tops $2 million in campaign funds

Despite recent rankings touting his re-election as “likely,” the freshman Democrat from St. Petersburg is not slowing down his fundraising pace. On Monday, his campaign announced it has raised around $486,000 for the fourth quarter of 2017.

With the most recent haul, Crist has now topped the $2 million mark in funds raised. The campaign said it started 2018 with $1.76 million in the bank.

Obscure Republican George Buck is running for Charlie Crist’s seat.

During the later stages of 2017, political campaign expert Larry Sabato moved Crist’s re-election prospects from “leans Democratic” to “likely Democratic.” While it is unclear whether former GOP Congressman David Jolly will seek a rematch, it became more unlikely when Jolly predicted a Democratic wave in 2018.

Crist will at least have a challenger on the ballot if not on the campaign trail. Obscure Republican George Buck recently announced he would run for the seat.

Official FEC campaign fourth quarter finance reports are due by Wednesday.

South Florida delegation members join Trump in remembering Holocaust victims

Saturday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, where the incomprehensible acts of Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews. It marked the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

The day featured statements and ceremonies from around the world, including Trump and South Florida delegation members, taking on those who deny Hitler’s grand plan ever took place.

“Our nation is indebted to the Holocaust’s survivors,” Trump said in a statement. “Despite the trauma, they carry with them, they continue to educate us by sharing their experiences, strength, wisdom, and generosity of spirit to advance respect for human rights.”

Donald Trump signs a proclamation honoring Holocaust Memorial Day.

“The Holocaust is an indisputable truth,” said Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel. “We must continue to expose anti-Semitism, racism, and prejudice, and fight back whenever we see them.”

“As the last generation of Holocaust survivors pass from this world, our moral responsibility to keep their memories alive becomes even more sacred and significant,” Westin Democrat Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “In communities at home and abroad, the abhorrent resurgence of anti-Semitism and bigotry makes that mission more urgent and vital than ever.”

Boca Raton Democrat Deutch hailed the memory of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews from deportation to death camps. Deutch posted on Twitter a photo of him standing next to a bust of Wallenberg, saying “#WeRemember and commit ourselves to fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.”

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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