Delegation for 11.16.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State


U.S. Senate race to Tribbles, Hail Marys

The machine recount totals are in, for the most part, and there are no surprises. Gov. Rick Scott still leads Sen. Bill Nelson, by roughly the same margin as when the recount began.

All counties, with the exception of Palm Beach, completed recounts for the Senate race by the 3 p.m. deadline. Hillsborough County finished counting, but a small glitch delayed their submission beyond the deadline.

In Florida’s U.S. Senate race, the lawsuits grew like Tribbles.

The timely reporting came when U.S. District Judge Mark Walker refused to extend the deadline as Nelson’s team desired. Secretary of State Ken Detzner orders a recount of overvotes and undervotes for the Senate race and Commissioner of Agriculture race.

Palm Beach still has the races for Governor and Commissioner of Agriculture yet to complete and previously received a five-day extension. Broward County proudly proclaimed that they had completed their task by Thursday morning, but had some difficulty loading the information into the state system and ultimately missed the deadline by two minutes.

While this should be a sign the election is finally nearing an end, we know that it is not. Multiple lawsuits and appeals are keeping Walker, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, busy enough to use a Star Trek analogy to lament “I feel a little like Captain Kirk in the episode where the Tribbles started multiplying,”

On Thursday morning, Walker got rid of one of the Tribbles/cases by ruling voters have until Saturday to clear up problems with mail and provisional ballots, while describing Florida as “the laughingstock of the world.” Republicans and Scott immediately appealed.

Shortly before the deadline, Walker ruled against Nelson’s plea to extend it.

Meanwhile, Scott and Nelson were both in Washington while the lawyers were back in Florida doing what election lawyers do. As Scott was meeting some of his would-be new colleagues, Nelson was holding what POLITICO described as an “unusual” news conference with newly re-elected Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

Despite the deficit facing Nelson, both Senators blasted Scott for his claims of voter fraud and said Nelson would ultimately prevail if the recount is conducted “fairly and thoroughly.” Nelson is filing the lawsuits to ensure those goals are accomplished.

On Wednesday, former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was front and center of the 2000 recounts, urged Nelson to stop the lawsuits. While not seeking to stop the recounts, Bush played on Nelson’s pride with his appeal on Twitter.

“Senator NELSON, please stop the lawsuits, let the votes be accounted according to Florida law and accept the results,” Bush tweeted. “Don’t tarnish your years of service to Florida.”

To the contrary, Nelson sued in state court to force a hand recount of all votes in Palm Beach County, not just overvotes and undervotes.

While the recounts were proceeding, Sen. Marco Rubio, who was putting out a tweetstorm immediately after Election Day, was more subdued of late. Some of the agitated version reappeared with a tweet using a football analogy to describe stealing an election.

Rubio was onto something. Elections in Florida are more about winning and losing as well as the tactics it takes to achieve victory similar to a football game.

During the final two minutes of a football game, timeouts, stepping out of bounds, and challenges to referees’ calls can turn those two minutes into a half-hour. Florida reached the two-minute warning when the polls closed 11 days ago, but the game or games, were just beginning.

Some describe Nelson’s strategy as a “Hail Mary,” another football term describing a last-second desperation heave into the end zone. The odds are long that Nelson will win in the end, but everyone is about to find out.

Rubio warns of China, Venezuela

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio has weighed in on numerous issues around the world, but two of his primary targets have been China and Venezuela. Now those two countries are involved in the same issue, prompting a stern warning from Florida’s junior Senator.

Marco Rubio takes a hard-line on two of his top issues — China and Venezuela.

A report from Reuters told the story of Venezuela obtaining the know-how from China on developing an identification card that can help the government monitor activities of citizens. Also, the technology to achieve this monitoring comes from another source of Rubio’s ire: Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE.

“This should alarm every #democracy in the Western Hemisphere: In addition to financially propping up the Maduro dictatorship,” Rubio tweeted, “authoritarian China is exporting ZTE technology that Maduro uses to blackmail his starving and sick citizens. RETWEET”

Rubio has been an opponent of ZTE doing business in the U.S., joining a bipartisan bill designed to reserve the Trump administration’s decision to allow them to re-establish in this country.

Gaetz, Democrat team up on veterans’ medical pot 

Medical marijuana, a signature issue of Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, is the foundation for legislation designed to help veterans in need. Teaming with Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, the lawmakers introduced legislation designed to change the Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical marijuana practices in an attempt to make cannabis a more viable treatment option for veterans.

Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton is teaming up with Matt Gaetz to back a veterans’medical cannabis bill.

The pair introduced three bills with three separate, but related objectives. The bills seek to learn more about how veterans use cannabis, to prepare better medical-marijuana education for providers and to protect the benefits of veterans who use marijuana.

“Medical cannabis has tremendous potential for veterans. It can reduce chronic pain, without the harmful side effects of opioids, and some early reports indicate that it may even have potential as a treatment for PTSD,” Gaetz said in a statement. “Unfortunately, many veterans fear discussing medical cannabis with their doctors, for fear that their benefits will be jeopardized.”

Gaetz has publicly voiced his support for medical marijuana on several different occasions. He sponsored the Medical Cannabis Research Act in September, which was reported favorably by the House Judiciary Committee on which he sits.

The bill has 44 co-sponsors, including delegation Democrats Soto, Charlie Crist and Alcee Hastings, plus Republicans Carlos Curbelo, John Rutherford, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ted Yoho.

The American Legion reported last year that 22 percent of veterans are using marijuana to treat a medical condition, and 83 percent of veteran households surveyed indicated that they think the federal government should legalize medical cannabis and 82 percent said they want to have medical cannabis as a federally-legal treatment option.

Brown’s appeal pushed back

As Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee returned to Washington this week to finish out his first term, the 12-term veteran lawmaker he unseated in 2016 was briefly back in the news. Former Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, who was convicted last year in federal court on 18 felony counts involving a charity scam, will have to wait a while longer before the court hears her appeal.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta pushed back the hearing on Brown’s appeal on 18 counts of fraud until sometime in 2019. It had been scheduled for Dec. 10.

Corrine Brown’s appeal gets pushed back until sometime next year. (Image via WESH-TV)

Brown previously appealed her conviction to the 11th Circuit, stating a juror was improperly dismissed from her trial. That juror made statements that the Holy Ghost told him Brown was innocent.

In the meantime, Brown will remain in a low-security federal prison in Sumterville, Lawson defeated Brown in the 2016 Democratic primary for District 5 for 9 percentage points and easily won re-election last week in the Democratic-dominated district.

Demings wants emergency hearing on Sessions

With last week’s sacking of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by Trump, some Democrats came to the defense of the former Republican Senator from Alabama. More said they opposed the move out of fear the President may be looking for a way to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

Among those upset by the move was Orlando Democratic Rep. Val Demings. She joined with Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee to write letters both to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and committee chairman Bob Goodlatte criticizing the “forced firing” of Sessions and their concerns over the potential impact it might have on the Mueller investigation.

Back in Washington, Val Demings is pushing for an emergency hearing on Jeff Sessions’ firing.

“It is our strongly considered judgment that the Justice Department should allow Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to continue to supervise this matter,” they wrote. Trump indicated Mueller would report to Whitaker.

In the letter to Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, the members said “We should hold emergency hearings concerning the circumstances regarding the firing of the Attorney General. At a minimum, Acting Attorney General Whitaker and former Attorney General Sessions need to be called to testify on this matter.”

Also signing the letter Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Florida’s other Democratic member of the committee.

Most Democrats challenged the constitutionality of Whitaker’s appointment. On Wednesday, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel opined that Trump was not bound to appoint Rosenstein and Whitaker’s appointment was “consistent with the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution …”

The DOJ memo was presented to White House Counsel Emmet Flood.

Webster touts cash to veterans

Veterans are high on the list of members of Congress, and Republican Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont is no exception. Last week, Webster, announced that more than $4.5 million had been returned to veterans in his district in retroactive, compensation, or pension payments since January 2017.

“Serving veterans is one of my top priorities,” said Webster. “We owe them a debt we can never repay. Yet, too often, our veterans’ attempts to receive the benefits or compensation they have earned are met with delays.”

Daniel Webster is stressing the importance of $4.5 million returned to veterans in his district.

When the bipartisan VA spending bill was first sent to President Trump in September, Webster touted its many benefits. Among those were funding for critical Veterans Affairs reforms, components of the VA Mission Act and claims processing for nearly one-half million veterans.

Webster also heralded funding to modernize the VA’s electronic health record system to provide seamless care as veterans transition to civilian life. Also, he mentioned Congress providing funding for mental health services.

Florida newbies part of swamp?

The rage among candidates running for federal office is to describe themselves as “outsiders” running against “insiders.” This usually refers to incumbents who are tied to “special interests,” otherwise known as lobbyists, former lobbyists or have spent years in government.

LegiStorm, a Capitol Hill watchdog, traced the results from Tuesday, which has produced a freshman class of 93 new members, with a handful of races still to be decided. Of those 93, four are former lobbyists in one way or another, with two of those four coming from Florida.

Just by winning her district, has Donna Shalala now become a swamp creature? (Image via AP)

Among those mentioned is Democratic Representative-elect Donna Shalala, who won the District 27 seat on election night. Shalala was counted as a former influencer because she lobbied on behalf of the University of Miami during her tenure as president of the university.

Another was Republican Representative-elect Greg Steube. LegiStorm included the new congressman representing District 17 by describing him as someone “who last year lobbied mainly on tax issues through his own one-man shop.”

Steube, a state Senator, was accused of “impropriety” by his primary opponent, GOP state Rep. Julio Gonzalez for lobbying the federal government on behalf of three clients.

While Shalala and Steube officially qualified as lobbyists at certain points in their careers, they can certainly make a valid claim not to be part of the “swamp.”

Lame duck gives Dems leverage

The U.S. House of Representatives is about to get interesting. Congress members are convening for the lame duck session in what will be the final two months of a Republican majority before Democrats take control of the House in January.

That means Republicans are likely to be aggressively tackling their priorities in during the coming weeks.

Democrats like Kathy Castor may have the upper hand during the lame duck Session of Congress.

“There are some outstanding appropriations matters that have to be finalized. The President was insisting on huge sums of money to build a border wall, and Democrats want to have a different tact on border security that involves better technology and border enforcement and that addresses the Dreamers,” said Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Democrat. “I think that’s going to be very contentious.”

But the lame duck session means Democrats might have better leverage.

“The President will be forced to negotiate,” Castor said. “Now’s the time to get it done if he wants to get it done.”

So far Republicans have insisted on the border wall and tough border enforcement, but have refused to give up any ground on making sure Dreamers, kids and young adults who were brought to the country illegally as young children, can maintain legal status as they pursue educations in the country. Democrats also want a pathway to citizenship for those individuals.

Castor said there’s also a lot to look forward to after January when a new class of Congress members is sworn into office.

With a regained majority, she said to expect Democrats to push for preserving health care for people with pre-existing conditions

“They all said they want to protect pre-existing conditions, so we’re going to give them a chance to do that,” Castor said.

If they don’t, she said those new lawmakers would be held accountable.

Democrats also intend to push forward with issues about climate change, campaign finance and corruption reform and infrastructure funding.

Pelosi (sort of) responds to Problem Solvers

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has responded to a letter from U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Darren Soto of Kissimmee and seven other Democratic members of the Problem Solvers Caucus who demand she commits to rules reforms to allow for more power for rank-and-file members of both parties if she wants their votes for House Speaker.

After meeting with the insurgent Democrats who wrote the letter, Pelosi’s response Wednesday made assurances but no such commitments.

Nancy Pelosi meets with Democratic critics, making no commitments.

“Democrats will restore transparency to the House so that the American People can weigh in on the legislation before us. We will respect the verdict of the election with representative ratios of Democrats and Republicans throughout our legislative committees. We will empower the committees by strengthening the path from markup to the floor, modernize the discharge petition process, and make it easier for bipartisan amendments and ideas to get a fair vote,” Pelosi wrote in a statement released by her office, regarding the Problem Solvers’ meeting and demands.

“The Democratic Members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus have come forward with valuable solutions to restore the House of Representatives as the great marketplace of ideas our Founders intended.

“We had a positive and constructive meeting, and will continue to work together to develop changes to the rules that will break the gridlock in Washington and deliver results for hardworking Americans,” Pelosi concluded.

The Problem Solvers had demanded she make explicit, written promises to support their five goals and 12 specific proposals or they would not support her bid to return to the House Speaker’s job in the 116th Congress in January.

Pelosi’s response is not that.

“The meeting we had today with Leader Pelosi was productive, and the negotiations are ongoing. We are still waiting for a written commitment from her,” said Murphy’s Chief of Staff, Brad Howard.

Delegation weighs in on Israel

Recent attacks against Israel by Hamas again raised the specter of a war between the sworn enemies. By late Tuesday a cease-fire was in place, but key delegation members singled out the terror group for blame.

“I support Israel’s right to defend herself from attacks by Hamas and other Gaza terrorist groups,” said Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. “These rockets are falling on innocent Israeli communities, and I urge responsible nations to condemn these terrorists and help put a stop to their bloodshed.”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is taking a strong stand on recent attacks against Israel by “Hamas and other Gaza terrorist groups.”

Ros-Lehtinen, the outgoing chair of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee was joined by the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Deutch.

“Hamas responds to targeted Israeli anti-terror operation by indiscriminately firing 300 rockets at Israeli towns and cities,” said Deutch. “Hamas is a terrorist organization that once again shows utter disregard for the lives of innocent Israelis — and Palestinians.”

Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also came down on the side of Israel.

“I strongly support Israel’s right as a sovereign nation to defend itself against Hamas and other terrorist groups that attack innocent civilians,” Rubio posted on Twitter on Tuesday.

He was joined by another South Florida Democrat, Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, in condemning the Hamas attack.

“I stand with the people of Israel and condemn Hamas’ indiscriminate firing of rockets into civilian areas,” said Frankel, who also sits on the same subcommittee with Ros-Lehtinen and Deutch. “Israeli families should not have to seek shelter as sirens sound and rockets target their homes, killing and injuring innocent people.”

Restoring Trust for 2018?

It’s been more than a month since the expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Trust, but Florida Congressional Delegation chairman Vern Buchanan doesn’t want a lame duck session in Washington to end before funding for the nation’s National Parks can be restored. Buchanan has worked through the year to get permanent funding for this Trust, and one of his close allies in the fight, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, will soon leave Congress. Buchanan listed reauthorization as his top legislative goal before the close of 2018.

The clock is ticking on renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Trust. Can Vern Buchanan save funding during the lame-duck Session?

Since the expiration of federal funding, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition estimates national parks have lost out on more than $113 million. Started during the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency, the fund managed to stay alive for 53 straight years.

Over that time, more than $1 billion got directed to Florida’s ecotourism assets from Everglades National Park (a key part of Curbelo’s district) to Caspersen Beach in Sarasota (located in Buchanan’s backyard). But Buchanan said the Trust will be a “critical tool for funding conservation efforts throughout the United States.”

On this day in the headlines

Nov. 15, 2000 — After a week of recounts, lawsuits and political tension, Texas Gov. George Bush’s small Election Day lead over Vice-President Al Gore dwindled to an infinitesimal 300-vote margin Tuesday after Florida’s 67 counties reported their totals. Gore and other Democrats are confronting a 2 p.m. deadline today to justify to Secretary of State Katherine Harris why any other votes in Democrat-rich South Florida should be recounted.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled earlier Tuesday that Harris could compel counties to submit their votes to her office by 5 p.m. Tuesday. But in an apparent defeat for Republicans, Lewis said Harris could not “determine ahead of time” that amended returns would be automatically rejected after the deadline.

Nov. 15, 2011 — With growing signs Hispanic voters are turned off to GOP positions on immigration, Sen. Rubio is trying to use his national profile to deliver a message to his party: Tone it down. Rubio said Republicans should not be identified as “the anti-illegal immigrant party,” but should instead be known as “the pro-legal immigration party.”

“You’re talking about somebody’s mothers and grandmothers and brothers and sisters,” he said during an appearance on Fox News. A recent Suffolk University poll showed that if Rubio was on the ballot, the Republican presidential nominee would win Florida but is still little known to Hispanics outside the state.

Staff Reports


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