Students have our attention, but will it last?
More than one month after the murder of 14 students and three school personnel in Parkland, the passion of the student activists remains high. Will it stay that way over the coming months?
In other words, will they be in the spotlight long enough to have an impact on fall elections? History would say no, but with the election of Donald Trump as president, looking to the past has not always been helpful.
Polling is already showing some erosion of support nationwide for banning guns. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 67 percent favored a ban, but two weeks later support had slipped to 61 percent.
Perhaps an equally stunning result from the polling showed that 54 percent believe Republicans are intimidated by the NRA, but 49 percent feel Democrats are as well. That does not sound like an issue likely to dominate elections.
Florida’s passage of legislation featuring school protection and some gun restrictions was spurred by students and passed with the help of families from all 17 victims. The students and many Florida Democrats wanted weapons bans.
This bill may serve as the model going forward. As proof, several Republicans voted against it because it had gun restrictions. Those were offset by several Democrats who supported the restrictions and school safety measures.
Once Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill, the NRA filed a lawsuit against it. Even before it winds its way through the courts, legislation in step with student demands is unlikely to come anytime soon.
Last week, the House passed the STOP School Violence Act (see below), sponsored by Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and launched in conjunction with Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and two others.
Despite a lopsided bipartisan vote, the students had harsh words for the measure on CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday. While they gave the Florida bill a “C” or “C-minus,” there was open contempt for Rutherford’s bill, which was filed two weeks before the Parkland massacre.
“The Florida bill is much more impressive than that embarrassing Stop School Violence Act that they’re pushing in D.C., which is just a bunch of hot air, fluff,” said Cameron Kasky. “Doesn’t use the word gun once when all these tragedies, again, the one thing that has linked them together is the gun.”
In the end, will the passion remain and will these students lead their peers to do something few traditionally do, and that is to vote? Will those voters older than the students, other than those who support gun bans, be swayed to make a big difference in primaries and the polls?
Democrats like Deutch and Sen. Bill Nelson certainly hope so. Republicans in swing districts like Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo are not taking any chances as they are publicly supporting gun regulations.
While students have made a dramatic impact on the conversation over the past month, their challenge is to keep the attention of an often distracted public. That is the only way to keep the focus of politicians.
Rubio/Gaetz have different takes on McCabe firing
The political world was abuzz on Friday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he had fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe’s termination came within a matter of days before he was due to retire with a comfortable pension and benefits.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was one of the few Republicans who questioned the timing, not the action, of pushing McCabe out the door on Friday. He explained his position, but provided wiggle room, to a question from NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday’s Meet the Press program after Todd asked if McCabe was treated fairly.
“I don’t like the way it happened. He should’ve been allowed to finish through the weekend,” Rubio said. “That said, that there’s an inspector general report that’s due and work that’s being done and after he had retired that report would’ve indicated wrongdoing or something that was actionable there’s things that could’ve been done after the fact.”
“But 48 hours to go before retirement, I would’ve certainly done it differently. Given the fact there’s still this report out there that hasn’t come in.”
Rubio was referring to the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is examining the conduct of the Department and the FBI during the investigation into the Hillary Clinton email controversy. The report is expected in the coming days.
On the other hand, Gaetz welcomed Sessions’ move.
“Attorney General Sessions’ decision to fire Andrew McCabe was wholly justified, and based on recommendations by the Office of the Inspector General, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and senior career officials at the FBI, all of whom recommended McCabe’s termination.,” Gaetz said in a statement.
“FBI leadership is not above the law, and Mr. McCabe’s dishonesty does not uphold the FBI’s commitment to fidelity, bravery, and integrity. It is concerning that Mr. McCabe was allowed to stay at the FBI as long as he did.”
Subsequent analysis from CNN and Forbes show McCabe will not lose his pension. Instead, he is missing out on receiving lucrative fringe benefits at age 50, but is still eligible for those benefits at age 57.
Nelson target of ads criticizing tax cut vote
The three-term Democrat is the subject of double-barrel attacks for his stance on the recently enacted tax cuts. Both the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and Americans For Prosperity are panning Nelson’s proposal to repeal the cuts.
Nelson, who is likely to face Republican Gov. Scott in November, believes the money going to tax cuts should instead pay for a bill calling for spending on infrastructure. That did not go over well with Republicans and conservatives.
“Bill Nelson’s re-election strategy seems to be voting against bigger paychecks, bonuses and more jobs, and instead supporting higher taxes for Florida families,” said NRSC spokeswoman Katie Martin.
Americans for Prosperity is targeting Democrats across the country, including Nelson, for their votes against the tax cuts. The Nelson ad features a black and white photo of the Senator and reads “Senator Bill Nelson voted against putting more money in your pocket.”
“After eight years of a lackluster economy, we are witnessing a new era of growth in which Americans from every walk of life are finding more money in their pockets to save or spend on things they care about most, all thanks to tax reform,” said AFP President Tim Phillips. “Higher take-home pay, more business investments at home and better worker benefits are all part of the great American Pay Raise.”
The group said it is committing six figures for digital ad buys, which will run from March 19 through April 17.
Gaetz, Dunn host Service Academy Day events
Each Congressional district has residents who desire an appointment to military academies. Those districts with a significant military presence tend to attract even more interest.
Republican Matt Gaetz’ 1st Congressional District is one of those with a large military population. Next week, he will host two Service Academy Nights for students and their families to learn more about the process for gaining an appointment.
Click the image below to see Gaetz’s schedule:
Representatives from the Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy, Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy and university ROTC programs will be present. The first event is set for Pace High School on Tuesday and Niceville High School on Thursday.
Both events begin at 6 p.m.
Joining Gaetz will be Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlbert Field, and businessman Jason Crawford, who was a decorated Army combat veteran.
Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, whose 2nd Congressional District also has a strong military presence, recently took part in Military Service Academy Day in his hometown.
House passes Rutherford-sponsored school violence bill
While a bloc of Parkland High School students and gun control advocates wanted more, the House passed a bill with more modest goals last week. The STOP School Violence Act, sponsored by Jacksonville Republican Rutherford, was approved by an overwhelming 407-10 majority.
The bill does not ban any firearms, but does take other actions designed to protect Americans from events such as the Valentine’s Day mass murders in Parkland. It provides technology for school hardening and facilitates better coordination between law enforcement and school officials.
It also calls for student, teacher and law enforcement training to prevent violence.
“Today’s vote in the House marks an important step toward keeping our children and our schools safe,” Rutherford said. “The STOP School Violence Act will give schools and communities the resources they need to identify threats and prevent acts of violence before they occur so we can avoid tragedies like what transpired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a month ago today.”
Rutherford and three other members introduced the legislation two weeks before the tragedy at Parkland. He was quick to praise Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, who represents the Parkland area in Congress.
“When we first introduced this bill,” Deutch said, “I had no idea it would hit so close to home for me and my community. This vote is proof that Congress can take bipartisan action to keep our children safe. However, my colleagues should not be mistaken to think this is enough.”
Among delegation members, 18 were included among the bill’s 94 co-sponsors. No Floridian voted against it.
Soto celebrates $3.5 billion defense contract
Politicians like to talk about job creation and economic impact, especially when it involves their district. The Orlando delegation has millions of reasons to talk.
On Friday, Lockheed Martin announced a huge contract to maintain over 300,000 devices used by the military. The $3.5 billion contract with the U.S. Army will mean thousands of jobs nationwide with dozens of those coming to Orlando.
“This is great news for Lockheed Martin and Florida’s 9th Congressional District,” said Orlando Democrat Darren Soto. “I am proud to work with the Lockheed Martin facilities in Orlando as they make Central Florida a leader in modeling and simulation. I will continue to support federal investment to strengthen our defense capabilities and national security.”
Private Orlando firms will also be involved, including PULAU Corporation and the Orlando offices of Cubic Global Defense.
“This is huge for PULAU,” said company President Michael Armstrong. “We’ve been supporting the Army, the Navy primarily in training systems. We were a minor player on the warfighter-focused program before, but this will catapult us to a much larger presence.”
Bilirakis honored by health care advocates
The Republican from Palm Harbor earned the thanks of health care advocates for his work on ensuring access to care for millions of Americans. The National Association of Community Health Centers presented Bilirakis with the Champion Award for his efforts.
“We are so pleased to present this award to our good friend Congressman Bilirakis,” said Andrew Behrman, president and CEO of the association. “He has been such a strong and vocal supporter of community health centers. We can’t express our appreciation enough for all his untiring efforts, most of all authoring the important bill to fund the health centers.”
A group of health care advocates visited Capitol Hill last week to present Bilirakis with the award. The award recognizes exemplary and continuous legislative leadership and advocacy on behalf of the 25 million patients who utilize Community Health Centers throughout the nation.
Bilirakis was cited for his record of ensuring these centers remain a viable option in which the insured, uninsured and underinsured can receive high-quality primary care, mental health and dental care. His provision reauthorizing funding for community health centers was signed into law earlier this year.
“I am humbled to receive such a prestigious award,” Bilirakis said. “Ensuring that my constituents and millions of other patients around the country continue to have access to the vital services they provide was a top priority for me this Congress. I believe community health centers may offer valuable options for Veterans who do not currently have access to dental care through the VA or who live in rural communities and have to drive long distances to get to their closest VA facility.”
Buchanan recognized by police organizations
The National Association of Police Organization (NAPO) recently recognized the Republican from Longboat Key for his long-standing support of law enforcement. NAPO President Mick McHale and the associated recognized Buchanan, citing his support of law enforcement, specifically increasing protections for state and local law enforcement.
Buchanan was cited for his sponsorship of the Thin Blue Line Act. The bill would make the targeting of or the killing of, a police officer, firefighter, or first responder an aggravating factor in death penalty determinations in federal court.
“I was humbled to be recognized by the National Association of Police Organizations for my work in Congress,” Buchanan said. “The men and women in blue have our back; it’s time we had theirs.”
McHale joined Buchanan in calling on the Senate to pass the bill, which cleared the House by a 271-143 vote.
NAPO commended Buchanan for his advocacy of law enforcement saying they “can count on Congressman Buchanan to fight the good fight and defend law enforcement even as these professions are continuously attacked. NAPO thanked Congressman Buchanan for his continued support of the law enforcement community.”
Mast to answer questions on gun control proposals
The first-term Republican from Palm City recently made news with his plan for temporary bans on assault weapons. He will appear before the public to expound on his views and take questions.
Mast and Martin County Sheriff Will Snyder, a former state representative, will be the guests of the Martin County Taxpayers Association on March 29. Their appearance is part of the association’s annual dinner.
The decorated war veteran shocked many on the right and the left when he announced he would break from the NRA and support the temporary ban. He further explained his position was designed to get Congress and other elected officials moving by imposing a deadline.
Mast has received praise for his stance from gun control advocates, but criticism from within his own party who are either angered or confused by his suggestion. Critics will have their chance to question him.
Association President Tom Kenney has asked residents “not to hold back” with their questions. The dinner begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at the Monarch Country Club in Palm City.
Frankel backs Baer for Congress
Lois Frankel is endorsing Democrat Lauren Baer in her campaign for Florida’s 18th Congressional District.
“Lauren was raised in FL-18 and understands firsthand the challenges facing the district and our country. Her passion, experience, and deep roots in our community set her apart and will make her a great Representative for the district.” Frankel said in a statement. “From day one, Lauren will work hard every day to find meaningful solutions. I am proud to stand with Lauren and look forward to serving together in Congress.”
“I am grateful to have the endorsement of Congresswoman Frankel,” Baer responded. “Over her long career, Lois has exercised remarkable leadership at the local, state and national level, and has paved the way for women like me. I look forward to working with Lois to fight for Florida families.”
Diaz-Balart praises latest sanctions on Venezuela
The Trump administration announced on Monday that even more sanctions are being leveled on the regime of President Nicolas Maduro. In addition to placing restrictions on four regime officials, the U.S. is banning a digital currency Maduro created to circumvent previous sanctions.
“I commend the Trump administration for further tightening sanctions against the Maduro regime by prohibiting financial transactions involving its new digital currency, as well as targeted sanctions against four additional Maduro operatives,” said Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami. “Today’s action aims to prevent the Maduro regime and its cronies from circumventing sanctions already in place and holds accountable more individuals involved in corruption.”
Last week, Nelson asked the Trump administration to take action against the cryptocurrency. Last month, Rubio openly suggested a coup d’état against the Maduro regime was in order.
Next week Trump heads to Lima, Peru for the Summit of the Americas. Venezuela will be a central issue on the agenda.
Maggie’s List fundraiser to feature Bilirakis, Florida AG candidate
The Palm Harbor Republican is on board to help elect more conservatives and will attend a fundraiser designed to help a federal political action committee committed to assisting fiscally conservative female candidates. Bilirakis, along with Florida Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody, is one of the featured guests at a reception on behalf of Maggie’s List.
Bilirakis will be there to help the group raise funds to continue their mission of assisting federal and state candidates such as Moody. The reception is slated for noon on Tuesday, March 27 in Tampa.
Among those hosting the event include former Republican Party of Florida Chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan, Leslie Saunders, Wendy Pepe, Christina Johnson and former Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham.
Maggie’s List was formed in 2010, led by Mortham, to support fiscally conservative women in the mold of former Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who represented Maine in the U.S. Senate for four terms. While Florida is strongly represented among the founders and leaders, the group has supported more than 100 candidates at the state and federal level around the country.
Mortham is the Chairman of Maggie’s List, while Jordan serves National Finance Chairman.
Along with Bilirakis, several GOP male delegation members are behind the efforts of Maggie’s List. Listed on the group’s website as “partners” are Dan Webster of Orlando, Bill Posey of Rockledge, Rutherford of Jacksonville and Dunn of Panama City. They join with Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
RNC rakes in cash
In February, the Republican National Committee raised a whopping $12.8 million, for a total haul of $157.7 million. With no debt, the RNC has $42.2 million cash-on-hand. Compare that to the lead in for the 2014 midterms, when the RNC had just $10 million cash on hand.
Reaffirming importance of home health care
This week, more than 30 Florida home care agency leaders – including board and staff of the Home Care Association of Florida, as well as home care agency executives and lobbyists – met with 26 members of the Florida delegation. The meeting was Part of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice’s march on Washington.
Among the key issues discussed:
– Fixes to the Bipartisan Budget Act, regarding the pending overhaul of the Medicare payment system for home health benefits;
– Passage of the Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act, which currently has no Florida co-sponsors (last year, Nelson and Rubio co-led initiatives, including sign-on letters by the full delegation to CMS on critical industry issues; HCAF is currently garnering support for this legislation); and,
– Reaffirming the value of home health care: high-quality, cost-effective health care in the patient-preferred setting – home. Every year, nearly 1,000 agencies across Florida provide services to more than 329,000 patients. The home care industry also employs more than 68,000 Floridians.
Associated Press names new White House news editor
Nancy Benac, a veteran Washington journalist who has covered the presidency and national political campaigns, is the new Associated Press White House news editor. Julie Pace, AP’s Washington bureau chief, made the announcement this week.
Benac will lead a team of AP reporters covering all aspects of the Trump administration; she had been on White House team on an interim basis since last summer. Benac has worked for the AP for more than 35 years, covering government and politics. She began as an intern in the New York City bureau in 1980, followed by stints in Detroit and Lansing, Michigan, before moving to Washington as the Michigan regional reporter in 1983.
On this date in the headlines
March 20, 1993 — With Supreme Court Justice Byron White announcing his retirement, President Bill Clinton has the opportunity to make an appointment only two months into his first term. Clinton was facing pleas from his base to appoint a woman or minority to the Court.
(Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on June 15, and she was confirmed on August 3 by a Senate vote of 96-3 with Democrat Bob Graham and Republican Connie Mack voting to approve.)
March 20, 2004 — As President George W. Bush prepares to arrive in Orlando to hold his first grassroots re-election rally, Democrats were ready to criticize his policies. Sen. Graham said “real Floridians are facing “real problems,” while Sen. Nelson ticked off statistics of “70,000 jobs lost” and “2.8 million don’t have health insurance.”
In response, Republican strategist Ralph Reed said: “I’m sorry to see that the comments of Sen. Graham and Sen. Nelson seemed to have more to do with their desire to audition for the vice-presidential nomination than they have to do with substantive issues.”
March 20, 2010 — With memories of a raucous Tampa town hall where Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor was hustled out the door, under shouts of “tyranny” and “shame,” Congress prepares for a historic vote. They are preparing to take up the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama.
Castor, who claims health care as a signature issue, is ready to join her Democratic colleagues in getting the measure through. They will need their caucus to stay unified.
(The law was passed by Congress by an all-Democratic vote on March 21 and signed into law by Obama on March 23.)