FBI surveillance tactics have ally in Rubio
In a huge document dump on Saturday, the FBI released a heavily-redacted version of the bureau’s request to initiate surveillance on a lower-level staffer of the Donald Trump for President campaign. The timing could not have been better for setting up the focus of the Sunday talk shows.
Despite the lack of full context, Republicans said it confirmed what they said all along; there was too much reliance on an “unsubstantiated” dossier to seek a FISA surveillance warrant on campaign staffer Carter Page. Democrats said it confirmed what they had said all along that Page was targeted by Russia as a possible asset, making it necessary to listen to his conversations.
With that backdrop, the Sunday shows proved to be interesting. Page told CNN the reasoning stated in the FISA application is “so ridiculous, it’s just beyond words” and “literally, a complete joke.”
While Florida Republican Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis have loudly proclaimed misbehavior by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, their fellow Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio has stood up for both. He did so again during Sunday’s Face the Nation program on CBS.
“So they look at all this information and say we have a guy here who is always in Russia, brags about Russian, and we have reason to believe and they list those reasons why this someone we should be watching and they follow the legal process by which to do so,” Rubio said. “I think that’s different from spying on a campaign.”
Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has frustrated many in his party for not being more outspoken on the FBI’s use of what is known as the “Steele Dossier” as part of the application process. The operatives who produced the document were paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Moderate Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina disagreed with his Republican colleague. Appearing on the same program, Graham said the surveillance was “not at all” justified.
Graham said the whole FISA process needs to be reviewed and described the dossier as “a piece of garbage.” During the interview, Graham also pointed out Trump’s inability to separate an important inquiry from what Trump calls a “witch hunt.”
“You didn’t collude with the Russians, or at least I haven’t seen any evidence, but Mr. President, they meddled in the elections,” Graham said to the camera. “They stole [John] Podesta’s emails. They hacked into the DNC.”
For his part, Rubio has indicated that he also believes there was no collusion with the Trump campaign and the Russians, because if evidence existed, it would have leaked long ago. DeSantis echoed that on Monday.
Next up will likely be a fight to release a full, unredacted (as much as possible) version of the FISA application.
Nelson helps secure extension for Haitian workers
Many among the more than 30,000 Haitians living in Florida under the Temporary Protected Status Program (TPS) were facing yet another deadline. With their designation set to run out late last week, many could immediately lose their jobs.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was among those sounding the alarm bell and urging the Department of Homeland Security give them another extension. In a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, he requested the department’s “immediate attention.”
By Friday, the administration took action. The Trump administration said it was “automatically extending the validity of certain employment authorization documents” for another six months.
In other words, those Haitians would not lose their jobs because of the deadline. Nelson tweeted the news.
“Per our request, DHS just announced they are automatically extending work authorization for all 4,650 Haitian TPS beneficiaries whose applications were still pending as of today,” he said.
Rubio: ‘Strong U.S. reaction coming’ to Nicaraguan regime
With violence escalating in Nicaragua, Rubio believes that at the current pace, a civil war is coming. On a Sunday appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rubio blasted Marxist President Daniel Ortega for undermining democratic reforms ad predicted things could get much worse.
“My biggest fear about Nicaragua is, unlike Venezuela, the possibility of arms — of a civil war in Nicaragua is real,” Rubio said. “It would trigger a migratory crisis. It would undermine our anti-drug efforts in the region.”
Rubio described Ortega as an “old and dying man,” whose desperate desire to cling to power has led to recent escalating violence in the country. He pledged that Ortega and his wife, who serves as the country’s vice-president, will pay “a big price for their crimes against their own people.”
In a tweet, the two-term senator said the current regime has “no future in power,” and a “strong U.S. reaction is coming. He pledged additional sanctions against Nicaragua and individuals associated with the regime for the recent crackdown government protesters.
Dems want Trump interpreter to appear before Congress
Marina Gross is not a well-known name in Washington, but if Democrats have their way, millions will know who she is and how she sounds.
Gross was Trump’s interpreter during his one-on-one meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Helsinki. With Trump seemingly doubting Russia’s culpability in election meddling, and his subsequent correction, Democrats want to know what was actually said in the meeting and are calling to subpoena Gross.
“Given the public concessions President Trump made to Vladimir Putin by siding against the US intelligence community, law enforcement, and our military officials about Russia’s attack on our democracy, Congress and the American public deserve to know the details of their private conversation,” New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell said in a letter.
Such a move would be controversial and likely unprecedented. No one asked could remember an interpreter ever being subpoenaed to testify before Congress.
“If you did that, then no one would ever serve as an interpreter in the future,” Rubio told Fox News.
Pascarell acknowledged the unique nature of the demand, but “Trump’s actions are unprecedented in a way that harms our national security.”
In an interview with The Hill newspaper, Gaetz said: “I don’t think that when two leaders get together, there’s an expectation that their translators would be testifying about their private conversations.”
Senate confirms new VA secretary
Interim Secretary Robert Wilkie was confirmed Monday as the permanent Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with a bipartisan vote. He replaces David Shulkin, who officially resigned, but said he was forced out.
The VA is the second largest department in the U.S. government with more than 350,000 employees, a $200 billion-dollar budget and almost 20 million American veterans depending on it for care and benefits. Wilkie is a Navy veteran and a current member of the Air Force Reserves.
He inherits a VA that is commissioning ambitious changes in the next year, including a significant overhaul of ways to pay for private care, a realignment of the VA’s aging infrastructure, and an expansion of a caregiver program for disabled vets. All of these were supplementary to the passing of the VA Mission Act, which Congress is now working on ways to fund.
Considering how Shulkin, many senior staff, subject matter experts and career officials were fired and or resigned, Wilkie faces many challenges. Some Democrats feared a political purge of the department was underway.
While the 86-9 vote to confirm seems impressive, the vote for a VA Secretary is ordinarily unanimous to show a shared sense of the importance of a unified effort on behalf of the country’s veterans. Both Rubio and Nelson voted to confirm.
Gaetz pleased not to make news with legendary prankster
A comedy program has visited Capitol Hill and other parts of America. The latest gag from British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, he of “Borat” fame, had him posing in a number of disguises to get prominent figures from Sarah Palin to Bernie Sanders, to say and do some goofy things in front of a camera.
One of those “interviewed” was Gaetz. During the first week of Cohen’s comedy program “Who is America” on Showtime, he tried to get Gaetz to support arming “three and four-year-olds with firearms.”
Fortunately for Gaetz, he did not take the bait. However, in another segment, Republican state Rep. Jason Spencer actually dropped his pants and yelled a racial slur on camera.
“I think it’s hilarious that Sacha Baron Cohen duped me into an interview and got some of my colleagues to say some bizarre things,” Gaetz told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum. “It was all very normal until the questioning went a little awry and something did not seem right to me and so I was trying to say something that was not all that newsworthy.”
Others weren’t so fortunate.
Soto ad punches back at Grayson
With the primaries a little more than a month away, it is starting to get a bit personal in the District 9 Democratic matchup between incumbent Darren Soto and former Rep. Alan Grayson. After Grayson began running an ad accusing Soto of ignoring hurricane victims, Soto ended a pledge to run a positive campaign by launching an attack ad of his own.
The ad, which began running on Friday, starts with “Alan Grayson is at it again, this time lying about Darren Soto.” If further accuses Grayson of leading a “double life running a hedge fund in Congress where he tried to profit off natural disasters in a shady Cayman Islands account.”
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
Grayson responded with a statement saying “When we go high, Soto goes low,” he said. “To attack an ad of ours that is 100 percent true as dishonest demonstrates that Darren Soto can even lie about lying.”
The ad, which ran on at least four Orlando television stations, also took pains to point out Soto’s efforts to help Central Florida after Hurricane Irma struck. Soto “led the fight for Puerto Rican evacuees and stopped Trump from cutting off food and water aid to the island,” it says.
Crist bringing Kennedy to rally
One of the remaining members of the Kennedy dynasty will be in Florida campaigning soon. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Joseph Kennedy III will join his Democratic colleague, Rep. Charlie Crist, in St. Petersburg for an event to promote finding solutions to fix the struggling Affordable Care Act.
The #ProtectOurCareEvent will take place on August 7 and will focus on “fighting attempts to undermine protections for those with pre-existing conditions, holding ‘Big Pharma’ accountable for rising prescription drug prices, and calling on Florida to expand Medicaid.”
While Crist is not in any apparent danger in his re-election race to district 13, he should expect some kind words from Kennedy. Crist tweeted the impending arrival of the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy in a tweet.
“Excited to welcome @JoeKennedy to St. Pete next month to #ProtectOurCare by supporting the #ACA, Medicaid expansion, and fighting efforts to repeal protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”
The event begins at noon in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park.
Deutch calls for Homeland Security chief to resign
Remarks made by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen has brought calls for her resignation with the latest coming from Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. During an interview with NBC’s Peter Alexander at the Aspen Security Forum, Deutch accused Nielsen of being untruthful.
During the interview, Nielsen said that Russian election interference was not intended “to favor a particular political party.” When asked if the hacking of Democratic Party emails was designed to help Trump, Nielsen responded by only saying she agreed with the assessment of the intelligence community.
Deutch was also critical of Nielsen’s description of the policy that has led to the separation of children from adults at the border.
“Secretary Nielsen has repeatedly spread misinformation and lied to the American people,” he said. “Just [last] week, she claimed that the child separation policy was the result of court rulings — not the intended result of the Trump administration’s own cruel policies.”
“She also said she has yet to see any evidence that Russia orchestrated a cyberattack on our democracy to support President Trump’s candidacy,” Deutch continued. “In both cases, she is ignoring the facts and denying reality.”
Deutch believes that Nielsen’s comments, as well as her role in Trump’s immigration policy, are grounds for her to tender her resignation.
“By rejecting facts and refusing to directly face obvious security threats, Secretary Nielsen is betraying our values and failing to lead the agency responsible for public security. Secretary Nielsen should resign.”
Diaz-Balart announces passage of large funding bill
Everglades restoration will continue to move along if funding approved by the House becomes part of a final budget. Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said more than $63 million in restoration funds was included in environmental appropriations passed late last week.
Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee, highlighted the continued progress of Everglades restoration and the funding for other ecosystem programs.
“The Interior Appropriations legislation funds continued restoration of the Everglades, preserving this natural treasure for future generations,” Diaz-Balart said in a news release. “I have fought for adequate funding to support the restoration process, and I believe this year’s funding of $63.83 million is a significant accomplishment,” Diaz-Balart said in a news release.
Other items included in the package: funding for national parks, water infrastructure, and the land and water conservation fund, among many others.
The funding bill passed by a vote of 217-199 with all delegation Democrats voting against it. Except for Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, all Republicans voted in favor.
Curbelo’s carbon tax bill faces long odds in House
Knowing his proposed bill will almost surely fail, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall is plowing ahead anyway. Curbelo’s Market Choice Act imposes a $24 per ton levy on carbon monoxide emissions while eliminating other taxes.
Its prospects are dim at best. Last week, the GOP-led House passed by a 229-180 vote, a “sense of Congress” resolution that states carbon taxes “would be detrimental to the United States economy.”
Even if his bill fails, Curbelo said the issue is not going away. In fact, he predicts Republicans will eventually come around to it.
“I truly believe that one day this bill, or legislation similar to it, will become law,” Curbelo said on Monday.
Curbelo is the co-founder and co-chairman of the House Climate Change Caucus, along with Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. Deutch slammed the resolution soon after its passage.
“It is astounding that House Republicans would pass an anti-climate resolution with outrageous and factually dubious claims that rejects outright one viable option for addressing climate change,” he said.
Along with most Republicans, Curbelo has the most powerful anti-tax organization in Washington opposed to it. Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist, is all in to ensure the bill fails.
“Carbon doesn’t pay taxes, families pay taxes,” Norquist said during an appearance at the National Press Club. “This is just the most recent attempt by the left to find a way to get into your pockets.”
Under the bill’s provisions, the carbon tax would increase each year, but other taxes would go away. If enacted, taxes on gasoline and aviation fuel would go away.
On this day in the headlines
July 22, 1969 — America’s moon explorers shot themselves out of lunar orbit this morning and began the 240,000-mile journey home to earth. Behind them, they left the historic little craft named Eagle that carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon and a towering place in history.
USSR Premier Alexei Kosygin complimented the U.S. on their success on landing astronauts on the moon. He made the comments during a meeting with former Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
July 22, 2006 — The House voted overwhelmingly to extend the USA Patriot Act, the nation’s main anti-terrorism tool, just hours after televisions in the Capitol beamed images of a new attack in London. Most Democrats supported the concept but expressed concern about an intrusion on civil liberties.
The measure passed by a vote of 257-171. Forty-three Democrats joined 214 Republicans voting in favor.
Year-long celebration of Apollo 11 mission kicks off
At this time 49 years ago, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were racing back to earth after successfully landing on the moon (see above). Planning is underway to celebrate the 50th anniversary next year.
On Saturday, the Apollo Celebration Gala was the kickoff for a year-long celebration marking the legendary event. The Saturday gala was a sold-out affair at the Kennedy Space Center.
Among the award winners was Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson, who is also involved in space flights. He said none of what he has accomplished in the latter category could have happened “had it not been for Apollo astronauts” and those that supported them.
The involvement of the astronauts is unknown. Armstrong died in 2012, while Collins is 87 and Aldrin is 88 years old. Neither attended Saturday’s event.