Delegation for 12.21.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

US Capitol AP 10.11.17

Trump navigates political minefield with border wall

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, President Donald Trump and Republicans were basking in the passage of a big tax cut bill that supporters claimed would kick the economy into a higher gear.

While the economy has performed well with low unemployment and higher economic growth, Republicans did a poor job of selling that fact. Some of those supporters, such as outgoing GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, could not beat back the political assaults that it was a tax cut for the rich.

Donald Trump’s border wall is becoming a political minefield.

Trump has often been called “Teflon Don” because, after a solid year of withering negative media coverage, fueled in part by his incessant tweetstorms, his supporters have stuck by him. Several have picked a particular period to say it has been the president’s worst, but the current week has quite probably become the most dangerous for him.

Part of the bond with those who are behind him and by his side has been his unwavering commitment to stopping illegal immigration by constructing a border wall. It does not matter that Mexico will not, as promised, pay for the wall. Getting it built is all that matters.

Last week, he said he would be “proud” to shut down the government “for border security.” This week he gave indicators he might retreat go along with yet another continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government without meeting his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding.

This puts him in a dangerous place with his core supporters, some of whom support him for that reason alone. Conservatives are in near revolt, and the specter of a shutdown has returned.

Democrats are rightfully gleeful because this could become Trump’s “read my lips” moment in time. Perhaps they understand that they are unable to bring down Trump; only he can do that.

Trump is clearly on the opposite side of his biggest supporter within the delegation. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Fort Walton Beach tweeted out his support for a Freedom Caucus initiative “to get border security and wall funding into this deal.”

By Thursday, Trump seemed to sense his predicament and sent out a cryptic tweet that he might not sign a continuing resolution, even if enough Republicans vote to pass it, which is clearly in doubt. He later added he did “not want to go further” with the spending bill without more wall funds.

“I think the next few days could get complicated real fast,” Curbelo said in reaction to Trump’s latest position.

Trump spent much of Thursday defending both moves to Republicans, As the deadline for a funding deal approached Friday night, the only thing certain was the uncertainty.

To regain the trust of his supporters, Trump may have concluded that he must veto any spending bill without the wall funds. By Thursday afternoon, Speaker Paul Ryan announced Trump informed him the president would not sign the resolution without border funding.

Trump’s 360-degree odyssey fortified Republicans in the House as they passed a spending bill late on a wild Thursday by a 217-185 vote.  While things are much different than they were a year ago, in the era of Trump it is just as easy to say what a difference a day makes.

Rubio joins effort calling for pardons for Groveland 4

A nearly 70-year-old rape case that saw two of the accused die in police custody and two others go to prison is again back in the news. The four black men, known as the Groveland Four, have been the subject of books, articles and, lately, calls for pardons.

Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas, were shot to death in custody. The other two, Walter Irvin and Charles Greenlee, were convicted and sentenced to prison for crimes that later-released evidence overwhelmingly showed never happened.

Sen. Marco Rubio is one of those calling for the pardons for the men who were accused of raping a white woman outside of Groveland in 1949. The legislature approved a resolution last year apologizing to the men’s families and calling on Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to issue a pardon.

To hear Rubio’s call for justice for the Groveland 4, click on the image below:

Incoming Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried has called for the Cabinet to act quickly. In remarks on the Senate floor, Rubio joined that call.

“What we can do now, as a state in Florida, is seek the forgiveness of their families and of them for the grave injustice that was committed against them. And this is what I come here to the Senate today to urge the new Florida cabinet to do as soon as possible after they take office next month.

“Because after 70 years, it is time for Florida to do the right thing for “the Groveland Four,” Rubio concluded.

His activism may have paid off. Late Thursday, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said he would back the pardons, while Attorney General Pam Bondi began a process that could ultimately lead to full exoneration.

Nelson, Webster sportfishing bill passes

This week Congress passed the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act) and sent it to Trump for signature. The passage is a victory for outgoing Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and GOP Congressman Daniel Webster.

Nelson joined with Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker to introduce the bill in July 2017. Webster introduced the House version.

Bill Nelson paired with Roger Wicker of Mississippi to modernize federal control of sportfishing.

The unified bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent Monday and the House of Representatives Wednesday by a 350-11 vote.

The legislation, which would make critical updates to the oversight of federal fisheries, marks a big step forward for America’s angling community, according to the sportfishing industry. Among other things, the bill seeks to promote partnerships with anglers, an update of policies, and study the processes for establishing catch limits, among other things.

A large number of conservation organizations supported the bill, the first-ever sportfishing-focused legislation to pass Congress. Among those was the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, Keep Florida Fishing, the American Sportfishing Association and Keep America Fishing.

Nelson’s last space triumph

Nelson’s last triumph in space may come from Thursday’s approval in the U.S. Senate of the Space Frontier Act, a bill he, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts put together and pushed through.

SB 3277 would streamline and clarify the roles played by NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies in promoting the commercial space business, and extend and expand NASA’s program to work with such private space companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin at centers such as Kennedy Space Center.

Bill Nelson gets his final triumph in the U.S. Senate.

“Reforms in this bill will help commercial space companies get to two launches a day in Florida,” Nelson stated in a news release issued by the Senate Commerce Committee.

The only problem is that the closest House counterpart, HR 2809, which was approved last spring, is not that close, and Congress has precious little time left to align them.

Pence visits Florida to make space policy announcement

Vice-President Mike Pence visited Florida Tuesday. He was scheduled to witness a launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral but made bigger news during public remarks.

Pence announced that the Trump Administration had directed the Pentagon to launch an independent combatant command in charge of military space operations. The U.S. Space Command would become the military’s 11th such command and would join unified commands organized by geographic region or function including Strategic Command, Special Forces Command, and the Indo-Pacific Command.

Mike Pence speaks at Kennedy Space Center, announces the newly created ‘space force.’

“The U.S. Space Command will integrate space capabilities across all branches of the military,” Pence said. “It will develop the space doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures that will enable our warfighters to defend our nation in this new era.”

The Trump administration describes the new command as a “crucial step” toward the founding of a Space Force, which Pence said the administration hopes to erect as a sixth military service branch by 2020. The Space Force would replace what is currently known as the Space Command within the Air Force which is responsible for organizing, training and equipping as needed.

Pence was also in Florida, along with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, to witness SpaceX’s first attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket, but the mission was postponed due to a problem during fueling.

“Nobody said space is easy, right?” said Pence. “The most important thing is that we get that rocket up safely and securely and it achieves its mission.”

Delegation members among those missing votes in House

With members retiring or being voted out of office, several have missed a high percentage of votes during the current “lame-duck” session of Congress. According to a survey from Roll Call, some just missed several votes, period.

Of the 20 votes taken as of Wednesday, 17 members — 11 Republicans and 6 Democrats — have missed at least half of them. Four of the top 6 were elected to statewide office in their states.

Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina missed many votes in the lame-duck Session. Some Floridians did too. Jones had an excuse; the Florida delegation did not.

More than 40 percent missed at least one vote. Some of those missing the highest number of votes are among the Florida delegation.

Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, who is about to enter his final term, missed all 20. Jones was excused from voting for the rest of the term due to illness.

Among the delegation, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key and GOP Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee each missed 14, while Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar missed 12.

Rooney is retiring while Buchanan and Hastings, who are co-chairs of the delegation, were re-elected to another term.

Walsh, West react to Special Forces officer charged with murder

A debate about rules of engagement on the battlefield and the handling of prisoners has come front and center after a Green Beret soldier was charged with murder. Major Matthew Golsteyn admitted to killing a Taliban fighter who Golsteyn said was a bomb-maker who would pose a mortal danger to American soldiers if he was released.

Major Matthew Golsteyn admitted to killing a Taliban fighter; he is now being charged with murder.

The shooting took place in Afghanistan in 2010, but the inquiry was reopened in 2016 following an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. When Golsteyn was charged with murder, a soon-to-be and a former Republican member of the delegation were asked their views on Fox News.

Representative-elect Michael Walsh, who will be sworn into Congress representing Florida’s 6th District Jan. 3 was asked his view of the charges against Golsteyn.

“You cannot execute prisoners once they have been detained,” Walsh, a former Army Lt. Col., said. “However, we are putting our servicemen and women in an impossible situation out in these areas because we’re capturing Taliban all the time and there is nowhere to put them.”

He said common fighters captured on the battlefield are not eligible to be transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for detention. The facility in Cuba is reserved for higher profile terrorist detainees.

Former Lt. Col. Allen West, who represented a portion of Southeast Florida for one term, was asked the latest news. He was highly critical of the decision to charge Golsteyn.

“Something has really gone wrong with the Army,” West said. “I think that’s what we really need to be concerned about.”

Trump has indicated he will review the case.

Murphy confronts Pelosi again

Winter Park’s Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy is flexing her muscle in front of House Speaker-Designate Nancy Pelosi again, this time to seek her backing of automatic voter registration.

Murphy, the new chair of the Future Forum, a caucus of young Democrats in the House, sent a letter Thursday to Pelosi of California and Democratic Leader-Designate Steny Hoyer of Maryland calling for the inclusion of a provision expanding automatic voter registration in House Resolution 1 — the democracy reform legislation that is set to be among the Democrats’ top priorities in the 116th Congress.

‘Blue Dog’ Stephanie Murphy is flexing her new-found muscle.

This move comes less than a month after Murphy and another group of Democrats, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, defied Pelosi and withheld their votes for her as the Democrats’ nominee for speaker unless she agreed to a package of House rules reforms. In late November, Pelosi and the Problem Solvers negotiated a handful of rules they wanted, and she could live, getting at least seven of their votes.

HR 1 is sweeping legislation is slated to include provisions that improve voter access to the polls, ensure the security of our elections, and promote integrity in our democratic process. It’s also portrayed as an anti-corruption bill, and at least some observers give it little or no chance of approval in the U.S. Senate or of getting a signature from Trump.

Demings touts Alzheimer’s bill passage

A bill co-sponsored by 21 of Florida’s set up a national network of Alzheimer’s research, treatment and support centers of excellence, was approved late Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives, sending it to the desk of President Trump.

The Building Our Largest Dementia Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act or the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act, or Senate Bill 2076, was approved by a vote of 361-3, after being approved by the U.S. Senate last week.

Val Demings makes headway with a new Alzheimer’s treatment bill.

Rep. Val Demings of Orlando was one of the co-sponsors and worked hard on the bill, in part because a close family member suffered from the disease. She hailed its passage Thursday.

“My family, like so many others, has been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s afflicts millions of Americans and is a leading cause of death. Even worse, it is a profoundly cruel disease which begins to rob us of our loved ones even before they pass,” Demings stated in a news release.

Bilirakis Heart bill passes

Congressman Gus Bilirakis’s Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act has passed both the House and Senate and heads to Trump for his signature. If signed, which is expected, it will be the 26th bill authored by the Clearwater Congressman to be enacted into law since 2015.

The legislation addresses investment needs in continued research to help the estimated 2-3 million Americans who have congenital heart disease.

Gus Bilirakis wins as both chambers pass the Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act.

One out of every 100 babies born in the U.S. have the disease, and of those, 5 percent won’t live to see their first birthdays, according to Bilirakis.

“Better data leads to better research. This bipartisan initiative is about giving hope to families who have suffered and improving the quality of life for millions of Americans by investing in lifesaving research,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “Doing the right thing on behalf of sick kids is a moral imperative, and I am glad we were finally able to get it over the finish line.”

The bill seeks to continue investment in surveillance research assessing the lifelong needs of people who have congenital heart disease.

The measure passed the House in February, but the amended Senate version didn’t move until this month.

The bill also addresses the need for continued biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of congenital heart disease. The study will target effective treatments and identify barriers to lifelong care.

Castor, Crist tout Tampa Bay for climate change conference

A major conference on climate change is scheduled for 2019 and Reps. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Kathy Castor of Tampa believe they have the perfect location. The two Democrats wrote to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change offering Tampa Bay as a host for the 2019 Conference of the Parties (COP 25).

The COP 25’s focus is on global efforts to combat climate change. Tampa Bay was suggested because the region and nearby areas are among the most impacted communities.

This week, Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist pushed the Tampa Bay era as the new location of a climate change conference.

“The Tampa Bay community is a leading force in the effort to combat climate change and prepare for the impacts of a warming plane,” they wrote. “Earlier this year, 26 regional governments signed on to join the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, an initiative to address sea level rise and climate resiliency as well as coordinate climate adaptation and mitigation activities.”

Castor would be the likely chair of the climate change committee in Congress, if it were to materialize. This would give the region an even more powerful voice in Congress’ efforts to address the looming threat. She has already discussed the possibility with incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“The Tampa Bay community is not only ready, willing, and able to host the COP 25, but it is representative of the local communities around the world that are both most affected by the impacts of a warming planet and are leading efforts to adapt to and mitigate global climate change,” they concluded.

Crist seeks algal bloom research

Crist is part of a bipartisan effort to draw down federal dollars to address algal blooms, including those that cause red tide, the Pinellas County area representative announced Thursday.

The St. Petersburg Democrat is joining the fight after a series of community roundtable discussions with scientists, researchers and business owners about the impacts causes of red tide as well as ideas to mitigate the problem.

Charlie Crist is fighting for more funding into red tide research. (Image via Sean Kinane/WMNF)

A key takeaway from those discussions was the need for more funding to research algal blooms.

Red tide is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but scientists say pollution and climate change can worsen it as the algae react to warmer water temperatures and an increase in polluted water seeping into the Gulf of Mexico and other watershed areas.

“There is a clear need for all levels of government to invest in research to help prevent the kind of crisis we witnessed this past year with red tide,” Crist said. “Florida’s economic health depends on our environmental health — from tourism to the fishing industry.

Red tide wreaked havoc on Gulf Beaches along much of Florida’s coastline for several months this year leading to employee layoffs at business affected and millions of dollars in lost revenue. The harmful bacteria also has an adverse effect on human and wildlife health.

The additional research funding would also go toward mitigation strategies to reduce blue-green algae forming from pollution in Lake Okeechobee.

Buchanan steamed at ‘inexcusable’ neglect of suicide crisis

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan wants answers immediately on why the Department of Veterans Affairs spent less than 1 percent of its suicide prevention budget this year. A Government Accountability Office report this week showed the agency spent just $57,000 out of $6.2 million set aside for addressing a crisis.

The VA neglecting the veteran suicide crisis is ‘inexcusable,’ says Vern Buchanan.

“Of the 20 veterans who commit suicide on a daily basis, it is estimated that 14 of those individuals have had little or no contact with the VA in the months preceding their death,” Buchanan wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This demonstrates that the VA must dramatically improve its outreach to those veterans who are not taking advantage of the department’s mental health services and exactly why Congress allocated funds for this purpose.”

Spending dropped precipitously in the last two years, and Buchanan would like to know why. He demanded Wilkie provide a report before Congress reconvenes Jan. 3 offering a written account “as to how these failures were allowed to take place and what you will be doing going forward to ensure that they do not occur again on your watch.”

“As you are undoubtedly aware, an astonishing 20 veterans a day commit suicide, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides nationwide,” Buchanan wrote in his letter. “Among veterans younger than 35, the number of suicides has increased dramatically in recent years. These statistics are not only heartbreaking; they are downright inexcusable.”

Deutch, Republicans blast Trump for Syria pullout

Declaring victory over ISIS in Syria, Trump has indicated the U.S. presence in the civil-war-torn country is coming to an end. That has brought outrage from some Republicans and chastisement from some Democrats.

The Pentagon has begun plans to remove the 2,000 U.S. troops from the country. While Russia, Iran and Turkey praised the policy, Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rubio to describe the move as an “Obama-like mistake” referring to the former President’s decision to reduce U.S. presence in Iraq, leading to an ISIS takeover of portions of that country.

If Ted Deutch agrees with the GOP on one thing, it’s blasting Donald Trump for pulling out of Syria. (Image via Getty)

Rubio later went further and called the president’s action “catastrophic.”

Trump tweeted a simple line of describing his logic saying, We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.” We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.”

Democrats were not outspoken on the move, but some were critical. Rep. Ted Deutch, who is expected to assume the role of Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, rebuked the president.

“The administration is yielding American leadership to powers like Russia, Iran, and Turkey to decide the future of Syria,” said the Boca Raton Democrat. “The removal of U.S. troops will not further our national security objectives in Syria or secure our allies in the region. In fact, this move plays into Iran’s long-desired goal to establish a land bridge from Tehran to Beirut to extend its regime and terror proxies.”

On this day in the headlines

Dec. 21, 2002 — Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is resigning following a fierce backlash from comments he recently made praising South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond during a 100th birthday celebration. Lott said the nation “wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years,” if Thurmond had been elected president in 1948.

Tennessee Republican Bill Frist, with the backing of President George W. Bush, is expected to assume the role within days. Neither of Florida’s two Democratic Senators, Nelson nor Bob Graham, immediately weighed in, but Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Lott “did the right thing” by stepping down.

Dec. 21, 2017 — President Trump cheered a massive overhaul of U.S. tax laws Wednesday, saying “we broke every record.” Democrats called the $1.5 trillion tax cuts a boon to the rich at the expense of middle-class Americans.

The vote was a party-line 224-201 count with 12 Republicans from high tax states voting against it. In addition to the income tax cuts, the bill also further clouded the future of Obamacare by repealing the individual mandate, or health care tax, which provided the law’s fundamental funding source.

Staff Reports


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