Delegation for 12.18.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State


Obamacare ruling causes uncertain future

At this time of year, Americans have a Christmas wish list of things they either need or want. For Republicans in Congress, they have wished for the demise of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”

On Friday, their wish came true when a federal judge in Texas ruled former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said that without the individual mandate, a tax levied to fund significant portions of the bill, the law no longer passed legal muster.

Donald Trump is thrilled over the Texas judge’s Obamacare ruling.

The response from among the delegation was predictable, with Republicans praising the ruling and Democrats condemning it. President Donald Trump was quick to weigh in calling the law “an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!” in a tweet.

Obama said “all of this should be a reminder that Republicans will never stop trying to undo” the law. It will likely be appealed, meaning the law’s provisions will remain in place during that process.

In celebrating the ruling, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio spoke for the law’s opponents when he said: “Americans should have the ability to buy a health plan that meets their needs, rather than what Washington tells them.”

Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor it was “irresponsible and cruel for Republicans to rip lifesaving health coverage away from American families.” In a tweet, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch said: “This judge sided w/ Republican Governors & the Trump Admin. who want to steal health care from millions of Americans …”

The grounds for the lawsuit against “Obamacare” filed by 20 states, including Florida, came one year ago when the Republican budget deal also contained a provision stripping the requirement for everyone to purchase health care or pay a fine. With the funding foundation now removed, Republicans went to court and found a sympathetic judge.

While Democrats went “forum shopping” to find friendly judges to attack Trump’s travel ban and other executive orders in Washington state, Hawaii and California, Republicans did the same thing by filing in Texas. The U.S. Justice Department did not favor a full repeal of the law which contains protections for pre-existing conditions, but also chose not to defend it.

Soon-to-be-Sen. Rick Scott has now come full circle. He became involved in statewide politics as a major benefactor in the effort to repeal the law before running for governor in 2010.

For eight years he has backed the efforts of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and the other states to get the courts to do what Judge O’Connor did on Friday. He has long called “Obamacare” “the biggest job killer ever in the history of this country.”

Despite this, on the campaign trail, he unequivocally stated he was in favor of covering those with pre-existing conditions. O’Connor’s ruling, if upheld, strikes down that coverage.

When ruling “Obamacare” was constitutional in 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts pointed to the individual mandate, or tax, as a key reason it passed legal muster. With that tax now repealed, the law’s supporters have every right to be nervous.

At that point, Congress would be forced to do something. Perhaps in between future shutdown threats.

Rubio bill to derail Iran terror funds

A group of Republican Senators and Representatives, including Rubio, have introduced new legislation targeting Iran and its role in funding terrorist activities. The Blocking Iranian Illicit Finance Act seeks to counter the Iranian regime’s money laundering and financing of terrorism, protect the global financial system from illicit Iranian finance, and impose maximum financial pressure on Iran.

Marco Rubio is pushing a bill to target Iran and its role in funding terrorism.

Rubio launched the bill along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher to combat Iran’s money laundering operations designed to promote terror in several parts of the world. They pointed to the Iran nuclear deal, which unfroze Iranian assets and re-connected them to the global financial system.

“This important legislation would empower the United States and our like-minded allies to do more to end the Iranian government’s ability to illicitly finance its dangerous efforts to sponsor terrorism and militancy, to advance its nuclear and missile programs, to egregiously abuse human rights in Iran and abroad, and to suppress the Iranian people’s aspirations for self-determination,” Rubio said in a joint release.

If enacted, the legislation would again cut off Iran from the global financial network and degrade the regime’s ability to export violence. The sponsors and co-sponsors, that include seven Senators and seven Representatives also praised Trump for withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

“I look forward to working with fellow lawmakers and the administration to enact this legislation and fully implement the maximum pressure against the regime in Tehran,” Rubio said.

Nelson attorney calls to count more votes

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson may have graciously conceded his narrow loss to Scott last month, but his high-powered attorney seems to be having a difficult time of letting go. Marc Elias, who has represented other Democratic Senators or candidates, believes enough uncounted votes are remaining for the three-term Democrat to secure a victory still.

The issue is 6,882 unopened ballots that arrived after Election Day, a time frame outlined in Florida law. Also, Elias pointed to more than mail ballots discarded due to signatures that did not match the ones on file.

Marc Elias argues that uncounted ballots are more than Rick Scott’s victory margin over Bill Nelson.

“Well, we now know it was 6,882 (late arriving) ballots,” Elias said. “And over 4,000 ballots were thrown out for signature mismatch. Nelson lost by 10,033 votes.”

Elias has not filed any recent court challenge, but legal appeals to previous rulings against his client continue. Nelson would need to win almost every ballot to overturn the certified result.

“Even if this were true,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee counsel Jessica Furst Johnson, “it would be almost EIGHT times the largest vote margin where an American recount actually flipped the election result. Completely irresponsible to drag FL through a recount under those circumstances.”

Elias previously represented Democratic Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington and Al Franken of Minnesota in successful recount challenges. None involved anywhere near the deficit facing Nelson.

Each day inches to shutdown

The wagers and lotteries are beginning among the political class. The question is increasingly becoming not whether a government shutdown will occur, but how long will it last?

Trump is adamant that he wants $5 billion in the upcoming spending bills or he will issue a veto. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says Trump is not going to “get a border wall in any form.”

Standoff: Chuck Schumer says it’s a full stop on Donald Trump’s border wall.

After Trump said in the Oval Office he would “proudly shut down the government” to get a border wall, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz reacted on Twitter.

“Donald Trump just threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t get billions of taxpayer dollars for a wall he promised Mexico would pay for,” said the Democrat from Weston. #ArtoftheDeal #TrumpTantrum

Trump responded to Schumer’s bluster with some of his own on Monday saying “any Democrat who says the U.S. can have border security without a wall can be written off.” That doesn’t sound like a compromise is coming in time for Friday’s deadline to prevent the shutdown.

Democrats are reportedly gearing up for a prolonged shutdown. With several Republicans who either lost or retired already out of town, passing a spending bill with the $5 billion seems even more unlikely before Jan. 3, when the new Democratic majority House is seated.

While anything can happen, those choosing a shutdown of two weeks or more may be onto something.

Democrats, Republicans come together on harassment rules

After revelations of quiet settlements of harassment claims against members of Congress, an effort began to hold those members accountable started more than a year ago. This week, the rules changed when members of both parties got together to approve unanimously a measure that overhauls the process.

Florida Democrats are working with Amy Klobuchar on new rules about settling harassment claims.

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota worked together with colleagues in both the House and Senate to agree. It now goes to Trump for his signature.

“This is going to be better for victims, and I’m proud that the Senate has come together on a bipartisan basis to get this bill done,” said Klobuchar. “The process we have will now protect victims of harassment instead of protecting politicians.”

The process came under extra scrutiny when it was revealed settlements were paid using taxpayer dollars.

“Everyone deserves a safe & dignified workplace free from sexual harassment, including in the halls of Congress,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach. “This is an important step to strengthen protections & hold Members accountable, but there’s more work to do to answer the call of the #MeToo movement & support survivors.”

One of the settlements disclosed a little over one year ago involved Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar.

Gaetz, Trump: Good riddance to Weekly Standard

Last week a strong voice for conservative and Republican views went silent. While The Weekly Standard was a conservative’s must-read on Capitol Hill for years, more than a few conservatives shed no tears when The Weekly Standard (TWS) announced it was shutting down.

Two of those pleased with the turn of events were Trump and Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. TWS founder Bill Kristol was a vocal opponent of Trump and those who followed him, causing a rift among conservatives and apparently helping to drive down circulation and clicks.

Goodbye: Bill Kristol is taking heat from fellow Republicans over the demise of The Weekly Standard.

“The pathetic and dishonest Weekly Standard, run by failed prognosticator Bill Kristol (who, like many others, never had a clue), is flat broke and out of business,” Trump tweeted. Too bad. May it rest in peace.”

Gaetz took Kristol’s endorsement of his 2018 primary opponent, Cris Dosev, personally. He tweeted a reaction to the news by dancing on the grave of TWS.

“Remember when @BillKristol endorsed @crisdosev against me? I guess having support from @RealDonaldTrump mattered more to Northwest Floridians :)”

Dunn, Rubio & Nelson seek funds to repair Tyndall

More than two months after Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall Air Force Base and several communities in the Panhandle, the base is trying to return to normal. Three members of the delegation want to make sure recovery stays on track.

Both Florida Senators and Congressman Neal Dunn wrote to the pertinent committee leadership asking for support in securing funding for the rebuilding of Tyndall. In a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committee, Senators Nelson and Rubio, along with Dunn, asked for their support for the Air Force request of $2 billion for the massive repairs needed.

Neal Dunn and both Florida Senators are seeking funds to repair Tyndall Air Force Base, which sustained ‘catastrophic’ damage from Hurricane Michael.

They urged approval of the funds not only to rebuild existing structures, but also to relocate three fighter squadrons to the base by 2023.

“Now we must begin to rebuild, not only for Florida, but for the good of our nation,” they wrote. “We are confident close coordination between Congress and the Department of Defense will enable us to accomplish the priority of ensuring sustained American military dominance through the rebuilding of these vital Florida military installations. We look forward to working with you to accomplish this.”

Murphy concerned about Vietnamese deportations

Last week news emerged that the Trump administration was pursuing a policy of deporting noncitizens from Vietnam who arrived before 1995. Initial reporting of the policy struck a nerve around the country, but it hits closer to home in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s story is relatively well-known; she came to this country at a young age with her parents, who were fleeing the communist regime. Today, she illustrates the concept of thriving once given the opportunity the U.S. provides.

Stephanie Murphy is concerned over Donald Trump’s policy that could deport Vietnamese refugees.

Murphy, the first Vietnamese-American woman to serve in Congress, stressed, “As an American, I’m deeply concerned by [Trump’s] attempts to renegotiate the 2008 MOU between Vietnam and the U.S., which would potentially deport Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the U.S. before 1995.”

The administration claims the policy is not about deporting law-abiding people of Vietnamese descent. Instead, its focus is on criminals.

“We have 7,000 convicted criminal aliens from Vietnam with final orders of removal — these are noncitizens who during previous administrations were arrested, convicted, and ultimately ordered removed by a federal immigration judge,” said Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman. “It’s a priority of this administration to remove criminal aliens to their home country.”

Last month, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius referred to the plan as “a broken promise” to South Vietnamese families. He was removed from his post and reassigned.

“This debate is about keeping our promises and honoring this country’s long-standing humanitarian spirit,” Murphy said. “I urge [Trump] to be mindful of this proposed policy’s impacts on thousands of families. We can keep America safe and continue to uphold our fundamental American values.”

Soto, Dems: Goodbye Zinke

The mantra of change is alive and well in the Trump administration, especially among the inner circle. The latest to announce his resignation, clearly at the behest of the President, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Zinke was facing multiple investigations, including one where he was accused of making a private deal while holding a conflict of interest. His departure was not a sad moment for Democrats, symbolized by Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando.

Florida Democrats say to Ryan Zinke: ‘Don’t let the door hit you.”

“Interior Sec Zinke resigns after leading charge to pillage our federal lands,” Soto tweeted. “He leaves a trail of corruption investigations behind. Only special interests will mourn …”

Zinke said he did nothing wrong.

“I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false accusations,” Zinke said in a statement. “It is better for the President and Interior to focus on accomplishments rather than fictitious allegations.”

One of Zinke’s first disagreements with Trump came in January, when he appeared at the Tallahassee Airport with Scott to state Florida was “off the table” when it came to new administration policy designed to enhanced offshore drilling.

The impromptu news conference and policy announcement was not cleared by Trump or the White House. Zinke was reportedly on his way out sooner, but the White House focus on the California wildfires and the status of soon-to-be-departing Chief of Staff John Kelly provided a reprieve.

Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt is reportedly in line to succeed Zinke as interim Secretary.

Demings talks impeachment

During the closing months of the midterm election cycle, Democratic leadership sought to quiet the talk of impeaching Trump. The goal was to keep the discussions about health care and the 2017 GOP “tax cuts for the rich.”

Now that Democrats are prepared to assume control of the House in a little more than two weeks, the talk has returned. Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando says it would be “a dereliction of duty” if all options, including impeachment, are not considered.

Val Demings says Donald Trump’s impeachment is not off the table.

Appearing on MSNBC, the recently re-elected Demings was asked about the recent revelations by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who claims the President was directly involved in paying off two women for their silence about affairs. Others in Trump’s inner circle have recently pleaded guilty to crimes, but not involving collusion with Russia.

“Since the special counsel’s investigation began, things have not gotten better for the president,” Demings said. “They have gotten worse. Many people involved in his campaign or his administration have either been indicted or have been sentenced, as we have seen this week.”

Demings predicted more incriminating evidence would be made public in the future.

“When we take over the House, we’re going to provide real oversight and hold the president accountable,” she wrote on Twitter. “We’re going to consider all options, up to and including impeachment. To not consider all options would be a dereliction of duty.”

Bilirakis student veteran bill passes

Veterans attending college or other qualified institutions have received an extra safety net thanks to legislation sponsored by Rep. Gus Bilirakis. The SIT-REP Act, contained in a broad Veterans Affairs bill, prevents schools from charging late fees or dropping them from classes when the VA is late providing veteran students with their GI Bill benefits.

A bill from Gus Bilirakis prevents schools from charging late fees to veteran students when the VA is late on G.I. benefits.

Students are being charged late fees, dropped classes and other punishments imposed on veterans whose bills are not being paid in time. To avoid the problem, the new legislation, if passed, would allow students to show their VA certificate to then be immune from late payments.

“This legislation, which ensures our Veterans are not adversely impacted when bureaucratic red tape causes GI Bill payments to be delayed, is very timely given the recent delays by the VA in processing payments,” said the Palm Harbor Republican. “(M)y bill will guarantee, moving forward, that veterans will not lose access to education or be charged with additional fees from the schools.”

The VA bill passed the House unanimously and is now awaiting signature by the President.

Castor considered for climate change cmte

Congresswoman Kathy Castor is under consideration to head a revived select committee aimed at dealing with climate change, according to POLITICO.

The select committee existed until about eight years ago when Republicans killed it. House Minority Leader and incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi publicly committed to bringing back the committee.

A group of about a half-dozen lawmakers and their aides said Castor is being considered to run it, but that no decision has been finalized, POLITICO reports.

Incoming House Leader Nancy Pelosi is considering Kathy Castor to lead a revived committee on climate change.

The Tampa Democrat currently serves as a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and has made tackling climate change one of her top priorities.

Castor did not respond to a request for comment on her consideration, but told POLITICO she was interested and the committee would “supplement existing efforts.”

But not everyone in the party is thrilled with the idea of creating another committee. Ranking Democrats worry a select committee revival would be duplicative and undermine efforts over the past several years.

Ros-Lehtinen’s Nicaraguan sanctions pass

The U.S. continued its efforts to bring the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega into compliance with its promises by adding new sanctions. The Nicaraguan Investment and Conditionality Act, sponsored in the House by outgoing Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, passed last week and is headed to the President for signature.

Outgoing Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is pushing for greater sanctions against Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega.

The bill calls for limiting U.S. loans to Nicaragua until Ortega follows through on promised reforms. Among those are holding free and fair elections, a right to freedom of expression, protecting the rights of opposition parties, and combating corruption.

“With the final passage of the amended NICA Act, Congress took a leap forward in creating further accountability against the heinous abuses committed by Ortega and his puppets,” the Miami Republican said in a statement. “In a desperate effort to cling to power, Ortega and his thugs have continued to clamp down on free speech and peaceful demonstrations.

“The United States has answered the call of the Nicaraguan people and will continue to do so in support of much needed electoral and human rights reforms.”

A similar version, co-sponsored by Rubio, passed in the Senate with no dissenting votes. Ros-Lehtinen’s bill earned 25 co-sponsors, including 11 bipartisan members of the delegation.

On this day in the headlines

Dec. 17, 1986 — President Ronald Reagan, trying to show he has “nothing to hide,” urged Congress to give immunity to two ex-aides who balked at talking about the Iran-Contra scandal sent his chief of staff, Donald Regan, to Capitol Hill.

The President is seeking immunity for former national security aides Admiral John Poindexter and Lt. Col. Oliver North. At the same time, the Senate appointed a panel to “get to the bottom” of the affair. Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was named the committee chairman.

Dec. 17, 2008 — Eager to jolt a worsening economy back to life, President-elect Obama’s aides are assembling a two-year stimulus package that could cost $850 billion, dwarfing last spring’s tax rebates and rivaling drastic government actions to fight the Great Depression.

Obama has not settled on a final on a total, and the final figure could be smaller. But after consulting with outside economists of all political stripes, his advisers have begun telling Congress the stimulus should be more significant than the $600 billion initially envisioned, officials said.

Staff Reports


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