Kennedy retirement sets stage for epic confirmation fight
As expected, the Supreme Court ended the week, and its term, with a bang. They handed down decisions that favored anti-abortion services providers, upheld President Donald Trump’s so-called travel ban, and kneecapped public employee and teachers’ unions,
If progressives and Democrats thought that was bad, the announcement of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement rocked the Capitol. Republicans and Democrats headed for their battle stations.
Kennedy was the court’s “swing vote” and had the respect of both sides other than the fringes of both. But the very prospect of President Donald Trump nominating another Neil Gorsuch-type of jurist had Republicans giddy Democrats and progressives in a fighting mood.
This week’s decisions ripped the scab off the wound inflicted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to hold a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016. Democrats correctly point out this week’s decisions would have been the opposite had Garland been underneath the black robe instead of Gorsuch.
MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews tweeted Democrats must do to Trump and McConnell what McConnell did to Obama. If another conservative goes on the court, Democratic leadership “will have hell to pay.”
With McConnell still around, that might be difficult. Within a couple of hours after Kennedy’s announcement, McConnell said on the Senate floor “we will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said such a step by McConnell would be the “height of hypocrisy” after what transpired with Garland.
“With Justice Kennedy’s retirement, the Senate has the opportunity to confirm someone who is committed to protecting (God-given) rights through the principles of original intent and judicial restraint,” said GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. “I look forward to a fair and thorough confirmation process this fall.”
The controversy will play a prominent role in the U.S. Senate race between three-term Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Nelson opposed Gorsuch, and if he wants to keep his base in November, he will have no choice but to oppose whomever Trump appoints. For individual and party reasons, he wants to wait.
“I believe the American people should be given a chance to express their views in the upcoming election, before the Senate exercises its constitutional duty,” he said.
Republicans will likely have only 50 possible votes with Arizona Republican John McCain’s health likely preventing him from voting. McCain’s Arizona colleague, outgoing GOP Sen Jeff Flake, would surprise no one by siding with Democrats if for no other reason than to spite Trump. Retiring Tennessee Republican Bob Corker could be another.
But Democrats have problems of their own. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, among others, are running for re-election in states where Trump won big in 2016. Voting against his nominee would not help their prospects for another term.
It will be an epic confirmation battle. The stakes are that high.
Rubio, Warner: Reinstate ban on ZTE
Whether or not China will come to the table to negotiate a better trade arrangement with the U.S., Rubio wants sanctions on Chinese telecom giant ZTE reinstated. In the run-up to Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un, the sanctions, which would likely have doomed the company, were lifted after a leadership change and a stiff fine.
Rubio and Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner are urging Trump to reverse course and sanction ZTE again. Several Capitol Hill Republicans and Democrats, along with the intelligence community, describe ZTE as a national security threat, especially after they were caught violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
In a joint letter to Trump, the Senators urged Trump to support the ban approved in the Senate.
“ZTE, though publicly traded, is a state-backed enterprise that is ultimately loyal not to its shareholders, but to the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese government,” they wrote. “This patronage relationship poses unacceptable risks to American sovereignty; risks that will only increase if the company is permitted to establish itself deeply in America’s telecommunications infrastructure.”
They ominously asked Trump “to heed the leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community, supported by a strong bipartisan consensus in the Senate, that we must pursue policies that prevent the widespread use of ZTE products in the U.S.”
Both Senators are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner is the vice chairman.
Nelson holds small lead in new poll
Most expect the Senate race between Scott and Nelson to be close all the way to November. The polls are already showing that to be the case.
The NBC poll surveyed registered voters while the CBS numbers reflect likely voters. When considering only registered voters, the CBS survey showed Scott leading by only 42-40.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Scott with a slight lead of two points.
Supreme Court leans toward Florida in ‘Water Wars’ case
Many thought Wednesday, the final day of the Supreme Court’s 2017-18 term would bring closure to the 20-year battle between Florida and Georgia over water flow into the Apalachicola River. In a 5-4 ruling, the court agreed that Florida was harmed and that Special Master Ralph Lancaster, Jr. was “too strict” on Florida.
The ruling means Lancaster has the case back in his hands with the “guidance” from the majority. This was good news to elected officials who have been directly involved in the saga known as “Water Wars.”
“Today is a great day for North Florida and the future of the Apalachicola River and Bay,” said Republican Rep. Neal Dunn, who represents the Apalachicola region. He called the decision “a fundamental shift“ in the direction of the dispute.
Rubio called it “a clear victory for Florida” as the court brought the region closer to having the long-term damage mitigated.
Scott, who made the call to bring the lawsuit was obviously pleased.
“(Wednesday’s) ruling is a huge win for the entire state of Florida,” he said. “As governor, protecting the families whose livelihoods rely on the Apalachicola Bay has been a top priority.”
Despite not being a part of the lawsuit, the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for carrying out any direction in altering water flow. They were a significant part of the ruling anyway.
“The United States has made clear that the Corps will cooperate in helping to implement any determinations and obligations the Court sets forth in a final decree in this case,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority. “While the Corps must take account of a variety of circumstances and statutory obligations when it allocates water, it cannot now be said that an effort to shape a decree here will prove ‘a vain thing.'”
Joining Breyer was Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Kennedy,
The case is officially known as Florida v. Georgia.
Delegation seeks to preserve drilling safety rules
Most of the Florida delegation has joined to protect offshore drilling safety rules. In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the members voiced their opposition to “weakening the Well Control Rule” put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The rule was crafted to prevent the kind of blowout that killed 11 workers in the 2010 explosion.
The letter to Zinke was led by Democrats Charlie Crist and Darren Soto, along with Republicans Vern Buchanan and Francis Rooney. The Trump administration first began to propose changes last December.
“This proposal to weaken the Well Control Rule will not only risk lives, but could inflict devastating consequences on our environment and economy,” they wrote. “The weakening of these safety regulations is compounded by the Interior Department’s plans to dramatically expand offshore drilling in nearly all U.S. waters, including the South Atlantic, the Straits of Florida, and the still-recovering Gulf of Mexico. This underscores the need for robust safety standards to protect our coasts from another needless accident.”
Among Florida’s 27 delegation members in the House, 21 signed the letter.
Hannity to join North Florida Republicans on campaign trail
During the past month, Republicans Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis have campaigned together in North Florida. On Monday, they will be together again, but with a special guest.
Fox News commentator and syndicated radio host Sean Hannity will join the two conservatives for their joint rallies in Fort Myers, Tampa and Pensacola. Both Congressmen are personal favorites of not only Hannity, but also Trump, who dubbed the pair “absolute warriors.”
Gaetz is seeking re-election to the First Congressional District, while DeSantis is campaigning to become Florida’s 46th governor. Both Trump and Hannity have endorsed DeSantis over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the GOP primary.
There will be plenty to discuss. Both lawmakers had their chance to grill Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday, when he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, a committee on which they both serve.
DeSantis will have Thursday night’s gubernatorial debate with Adam Putnam as part of his agenda.
House passes Posey bill pushing space-related businesses
With the space industry now heavily reliant on the private sector, the opportunity for more small and medium-sized businesses now exist. A bill by Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge seeks to attract those businesses to the Florida Space Coast.
On Wednesday, the House unanimously passed the Commercial Space Support Vehicle Act, sets federal regulatory and licensing framework for private companies doing everything from training private astronauts in high-flying aircraft to launching spacecraft from underneath airplanes for subspace research and technology development.
Posey has pushed the legislation for a couple of years because companies in the fledgling private space industry, including the Kennedy Space Center-based Starfighters, discovered there were insufficient federal regulatory frameworks for such operations, and so the Federal Aviation Administration was reluctant to grant licenses.
“Companies would like to utilize space support vehicles to train crews and spaceflight participants by exposing them to the physiological effects encountered in spaceflight or conduct research in reduced gravity environments,” Posey stated in a news release. “This legislation creates a foundation for more companies to engage in human spaceflight activities and support commercial space operations.
Among the bill’s four co-sponsors was Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee.
Democrats’ newest star endorses Murphy’s primary opponent
Not long after political neophyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset victory over New York Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, she began to make endorsements. Less than 24 hours after that win, she endorsed another upstart — District 7 candidate Chardo Richardson.
Richardson is challenging first-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy, who herself won in a 2016 upset over longtime incumbent John Mica. Ocasio-Cortez and Richardson met previously through progressive groups formed to find and recruit candidates.
“We were the original Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats,” Richardson said. “Alexandria and I always had a great relationship and supported each other.”
Even with the support of the Democratic Party’s new national star, it will be a tough road for Richardson. Murphy has raised $1.7 million and gained several endorsements, including this week’s announcements from the AFL-CIO and the Florida Education Association.
Ocasio-Cortez won Tuesday, despite not accepting corporate money, but still raised $300,000 to get her message out. She hopes her support will help Richardson do the same.
“There are more of us, too,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We need to elect a corporate PAC-free caucus if we’re going to get things done.”
Murphy to serve on defense appropriations conference committee
Murphy has been tapped to serve an essential role in national defense appropriations. On Wednesday, she was appointed to serve on the conference committee tasked with developing final legislation that will be the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
She was appointed by House leadership to work with House colleagues and conferees from the Senate to reconcile the competing versions of the NDAA. When completed, Congress will vote to spend between $650 billion to $700 billion.
“I am extraordinarily grateful for this unique opportunity to advocate for our nation’s service members in this year’s defense authorization bill,” Murphy said. “As a conferee, I’ll work hard alongside my House and Senate colleagues to ensure we provide our military with the resources it needs to keep our nation safe. I look forward to serving as central Florida’s voice on the NDAA conference committee.”
Deutch, Curbelo announce Posey, other new members to climate caucus
The Climate Change Caucus has again expanded with the addition of 6 new members representing both parties. In a joint announcement, caucus co-chairs Carlos Curbelo, a Kendall Republican, and Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton, welcomed the additions that now bring the membership to 84 members, equally divided among Republicans and Democrats.
“Now 84 Members strong, the Climate Solutions Caucus is evidence there is a growing, diverse, and bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress willing to put partisan stereotypes aside to work toward meaningful solutions to the challenges posed by sea level rise and climate change,” Curbelo said.
Among the new members is Rockledge Republican Bill Posey, one of the more conservative members of the House. He joins fellow Republicans Gaetz, Brian Mast and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, along with Democrats Crist and Murphy.
“Climate change is an urgent global issue with severe local ramifications,” said Deutch. “As more and more Americans face the impacts of climate change, they are demanding action from Congress. I welcome these new members to our Caucus and look forward to finding bipartisan solutions to address the effects of climate change facing communities across our country.”
Curbelo blasts colleagues after immigration bill’s defeat
Over the last week, two Republican immigration bills were defeated in the House. Last week, 191 Republicans voted for the so-called “Goodlatte bill,” but it wasn’t enough.
On Wednesday, the House leadership compromise bill could muster only 121 votes in an embarrassing defeat. That means no DACA fix or funding for a border wall. Those within the GOP advocating for DREAMers and seeking a solution to family separation at the border, including Curbelo, criticized their colleagues for killing the latest bill.
“Today a coalition of shortsighted House Members shamefully came together to preserve the broken, inefficient, unfair immigration system that misgoverns our country,” Curbelo said in a statement. “By rejecting sensible immigration reform, a minority of Republicans voted with all Democrats against stronger border security, against a future in our country for young immigrants in the DACA program, against closing loopholes that are exploited by drug and human traffickers, and against permanently ending the horrible policy of separating children from their parents at the border.”
Curbelo has been a leader in bringing immigration legislation to the floor through a process known as a discharge petition. The effort was near its goal before it was temporarily halted to allow votes on these two bills. There appears to be no other option.
“There’s no unicorn — nothing that (Freedom Caucus member) Jim Jordan would vote for that Carlos Curbelo could ever support,” said one senior GOP aide to CNN, referring to a nonexistent bill that could bridge the gap between the conference’s most conservative and moderate members. “And vice versa.”
This could mean the return of the discharge petition and the probable passage of the more liberal DREAM Act, which House leadership was desperately trying to avoid by calling for the truce. Curbelo, one of 203 co-sponsors of the bill, seemed to prepare his colleagues for such a move.
“I will not stop working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to deliver an immigration system all Americans can celebrate — one that is fair, compassionate, and respects the rule of law,” Curbelo said.
On this date in the headlines
June 29, 2000 — Clearing its first big hurdle in Congress, a bill that would launch a $7.8 billion plan to restore the Everglades passed easily out of a Senate committee. The vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was 17-1.
“We are going to save this world treasure for future generations,” said Democratic Sen. Bob Graham. “We need to move forward expeditiously.”
Gov. Jeb Bush previously signed into law Florida’s contribution of $2 billion over the next 10 years.
June 29, 2012 — Florida’s challenge, led by Attorney General Pam Bondi, to the Affordable Care Act was derailed by the U.S. Supreme Court as it found President Barack Obama’s signature legislation was constitutional. Florida filed its challenge shortly after it was signed into law in 2010. One newspaper blazed a banner headline “Bondi, Scott thwarted.”
Democrats and proponents hailed the 5-4 decision as a victory for the uninsured. Gov. Rick Scott zeroed in on the distinction that the individual mandate was a tax, contrary to the previous arguments of Obama and his administration. Scott said Congress needs “to work actively to get rid of that tax.”