Delegation increases shutdown vitriol
The partial government shutdown is now in its fourth week. It dominates nearly every hour of every news cycle with no end to the impasse and surrounding hysteria in sight.
Dueling choirs of Republicans and Democrats have begun to sing louder, however. In the early days of the impasse, the conflict centered on verbal (or Twitter) duels between President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Whether Senators and Representatives were eager to join in the talking point battles or drafted into service, each side is fighting the message war as their base wants it fought. Democrats say they will not budge on funding the border wall while Republicans say reopening the government must include those dollars.
Republican Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville mocked a Democratic talking point of a “manufactured” crisis by using a GOP talking point of immigrant caravans and drug smugglers. On the House floor, Rutherford said the current situation is manufactured in Central and South America and “by drug cartels to be trafficked north and smuggled across the southern border into our communities.”
Rutherford’s North Florida counterpart, Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, tweeted the shutdown is “endangering critical services for the American people for a wall.” Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson lamented the fact federal employees missed a paycheck Friday “all because @realDonaldTrump is throwing a tantrum to try to get his wasteful wall.”
Three South Florida Democrats, joined by furloughed federal employees, held a joint news conference to demand an end to the shutdown. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Weston and Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel Powell were there to show their unity with federal workers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will not allow funding bills without border wall funding to come to the floor, was a villain of equal proportion to Trump.
“Let Mitch McConnell put it on the floor and see what happens,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The reason he isn’t? It’s because he knows it will pass and it will go to the president, and he doesn’t want to put the president in an uncomfortable position. There is no justification for the president to keep the government shut down, endangering critical services for the American people over his demand for a wall. It is time to #EndTheShutdown, do the right thing & get our hardworking federal employees back to work. #TrumpShutdown.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said the problem comes from the Democratic side and their failure to negotiate.
“I join House Republicans in calling Democratic leadership to enter bipartisan negotiations so that we can end this unnecessary shutdown and fund programs that help our veterans, maintain our nation’s infrastructure, keep Americans moving through our airports and seaports, and protect our national security,” the Miami Republican said.
Polls show Trump and Republicans are getting a majority of the blame for the shutdown. As a new caravan prepares to leave Honduras (see Rubio below), Trump and the GOP seem to believe those numbers will improve.
Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency and use emergency funding to build the wall has universal opposition on the Democratic side. In stating her opposition to the idea, Wasserman Schulz described the wall as a “boondoggle.”
A growing number of Republicans are among those advising Trump not to take that step. Among those are Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott, and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
If that is off the table, it will likely come down to which side fears the wrath of their base more if they negotiate. If unpaid federal workers, especially at airports, begin to walk off the job, it might expedite an answer to that question.
Rubio: New caravan defines border crisis
As Congress and the country bickers over what constitutes ’emergency crisis’ at the border, more evidence may be on the way to bolster the case of those seeking a border barrier.
Reports of a new caravan forming in Honduras are sure to draw 24/7 coverage in the media.
With two deaths and multiple illnesses suffered by those who made the long journey to the U.S. border in October and November, Sen. Marco Rubio weighed in on the latest developments.
“It is not a trip that anyone in the world should be making,” Rubio said on Fox News. “From Honduras through Guatemala, through Mexico, trafficked by some of the most dangerous human beings on this planet, only to try to get across the U.S. border.”
Whether or not the situation constitutes a crisis and requires a border wall, Rubio cautioned Trump last week against declaring a national emergency and using disaster funds to build it. He may not believe it constitutes an emergency, but the caravans do pose significant problems.
“So, from that standpoint alone, it is a crisis,” he said.
Scott blasts Maduro, praises opposition
As the situation in Venezuela grows worse by the day, a new leader has emerged to challenge dictator Nicolas Maduro. Juan Guaidó, leader of the nation’s Congress, has publicly challenged Maduro and has gained the recognition as head of state by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the country of Brazil.
Maduro considers Guaidó a genuine threat and briefly detained the opposition leader Sunday. Rubio has been a constant critic of Maduro and his regime, joining with former Sen. Bill Nelson in condemning Venezuelan leadership, but Florida’s senior Senator has a new voice joining him.
“The atrocities we are seeing in Venezuela — from the lack of food and medicine to the denial of basic human rights — are a direct result of Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship,” Scott said in a statement. “The brazen kidnapping of Juan Guaidó is just another in a long line of anti-Democratic acts by a regime that spits in the face of the will of the people of Venezuela.
“I stand with the people of Venezuela and will always fight for freedom and democracy in Latin America,” Scott continued. “I applaud the commitment of the Venezuelan National Assembly and its president, Juan Guaidó, to restore a constitutional government and a brighter future for the country. And I support President Trump and his administration’s commitment to freedom and democracy in Venezuela.”
Scott urged Trump not to use disaster money
Less than two days on the job as a U.S. Sen., Scott was on the telephone with Trump discussing the government shutdown. Specifically, he was talking to the President about the possibility of using disaster funds to get around the House reluctant to build a border wall.
Scott was using his time to advise against taking the controversial step. While other Republicans have argued a Trump declaration of a national emergency would free other Presidents to take similar actions on issues he or she might deem an emergency.
The freshman Senator was making a different argument. He was concerned some of the disaster funds intended for Florida would be used for the wall.
Scott left the 10-to-15-minute call feeling better. According to a CNN source, Scott now has “no reason to believe that Florida disaster funds will be repurposed for any reason.” the source said.
It is not the first time the former Florida Governor had a difference of opinion with the President on a significant event. During the campaign, he mildly rebuked Trump when the President disputed the death toll in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria.
His stance on disaster funding falls in line with his campaign pledge. In a fall interview with CNN, Scott said: “If it is good for Florida, I am going to agree with the President. If it is bad for Florida, I am going to oppose it.”
A future partnership between Gaetz, Ocasio-Cortez?
The issue of medical marijuana has created some interesting bonds between unlikely allies. Among those is the mutual respect shared between Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and super-lawyer John Morgan.
Morgan, a longtime Democrat who changed his registration to independent, recently called Gaetz his “favorite Republican, other than my wife.”
Gaetz may be making another “friend” through the issue; New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A recent piece in the Washington Examiner set up the possibility of a “beautiful bipartisan friendship.”
They have other things in common. Gaetz is among those in the Republican caucus who supports efforts to combat climate change and sometimes winds up on the wrong side of his party’s leadership on budget issues.
Ocasio-Cortez is already gaining notoriety of antagonizing her party’s leadership. No word yet on whether she responded to the overture from Gaetz.
Yoho, joins Dems on cattle hauler safety bill
Truckers, including those who haul livestock around the country, are known for sometimes meeting schedules by driving long hours with little sleep. Lawmakers and advocates point to the potential for disaster.
At the same time, regulations calling for mandated lengths of breaks keep livestock in trucks longer, putting them at risk, especially in summer months. Rep. Ted Yoho has joined with Democrats to file legislation designed to ensure greater safety for cattle haulers.
The Transporting Livestock American Safely Act (TLASS) seeks to balance the safety needs of both haulers and their cargo.
“Extended stops for a hauler, which would be necessitated by (Hours of Service) regulations, are especially dangerous for livestock during summer or winter months,” Yoho said in a statement. “TLAAS will make the right modifications to current regulations, so we protect the safety of both haulers and livestock in route to their destination.”
The bill mirrors one filed in the Senate last year by Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse but did not get a vote on the Senate floor. Rubio was a co-sponsor of that bill.
“On behalf of America’s cattle producers, I want to thank Congressman Yoho for once again taking a leadership role in working toward delivering certainty and common sense for our nation’s livestock haulers,” said Kevin Kester, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Soto proposes half-dozen environmental policy bills
The legislative package looks to protect Florida from fracking damage, combat the potential pandemic from infectious diseases caused by mosquitoes, limit the sale of lionfish, and to fund research to decrease the risk of sinkholes.
“Since my first day in Congress, I’ve championed sound environmental legislation while focusing on protecting my home state of Florida from the harms of climate change,” the Orlando Democrat said in a news release. “That’s why the first priority in the 116th Congress is making true on a promise I made to my constituents to protect and preserve our environment.”
The six bills include the Kissimmee River Wild and Scenic River Study Act, the SMASH Act, the Lionfish Bill, the Fracking Disclosure and Safety Act, the Fracking Jurisdiction Act, and the Sinkhole Mapping Act of 2019.
“As the first order of business, I’ve reintroduced my key environmental bills that received tremendous support in the last Congress,” Soto added. “We will continue to work tirelessly to advance this critical legislation.”
The Kissimmee River bill passed out of the House during the last Congress; it died in the Senate.
Castor, Crist continue push to end shutdown
U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Kathy Castor are both seeking input from residents about how the partial federal shutdown is affecting them.
In an online poll on his Congressional website, Crist is asking constituents to share their stories. Castor has also been reaching out to those impacted by the shutdown to describe how it’s affecting them and what they are doing about it.
Both Democratic lawmakers voted in favor of the House-approved spending bill that would restore funding to all federal agencies except the Department of Homeland Security. A second measure would temporarily open DHS until Feb. 8 to resume negotiations over President Donald Trump’s border wall.
In an announcement last week, Castor expressed concern over the Environmental Protection Agency’s inability to continue air monitoring and other duties.
“That means that Florida could see our federal dollars, which reached $105 million in FY 2017 for our state, no longer support critical initiatives,” she said. “For over two weeks, EPA has been unable to perform its essential, lifesaving role of protecting the clean air our children breathe and the clean water that they drink. The President does not seem to care, threatening to keep the government and its critical services for public health closed for ‘years.’”
In his poll, Crist asks constituents how they think the shutdown should end — by Trump accepting the House Bill, Congress agreeing to fund the wall or through some other compromise. He also asks what effect constituents think the shutdown is having on the nation with answers ranging from very negative, to neutral to very positive.
Both Tampa Bay-area members of Congress are calling on Trump and Congressional Republicans to end the shutdown without making funding for the wall a contingency.
Hastings, Diaz-Balart introduce Everglades restoration bill
Two South Florida colleagues have teamed up to file legislation aimed at moving forward the stalled effort to restore the Everglades. Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings joined with Diaz-Balart to introduce the bipartisan Everglades for the Next Generation Act.
The legislation will authorize Everglades restoration projects that are ready to go, ensuring the necessary progress in the region continues. It will also provide the Army Corps of Engineers with the flexibility needed to avoid future Congressional bottlenecks.
“Protection and restoration of the Everglades is a top priority,” said Hastings, who co-chairs the House Everglades Caucus with Diaz-Balart. “The Everglades is absolutely vital to the overall health of both South Florida’s ecosystem and economy. Congressional inaction has persevered for far too long despite bipartisan support for restoration.”
Both continue to stress the importance of their bill, while also emphasizing that it is unnecessary to wait for another Water Resources Development Act, which has provided earlier funding for restoration efforts.
“Everglades restoration continues to be one of my top priorities in Congress,” said Diaz-Balart. “We must do everything we can to protect Florida’s ecosystem, and we cannot allow delays to occur which would impede the work that needs to be done.”
Rooney to co-chair climate change caucus
Rep. Francis Rooney has been appointed co-chairman of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. The appointment positions the Naples Republican to become a leading House Republican advocating for government policy to fight global warming.
As of Monday an official announcement from co-chairman Ted Deutch and the rest of the caucus was yet to come, but Rooney confirmed his new role to the Washington Examiner.
“It’s important we show that at least some Republicans do feel the climate is changing, recognize we are at risk of sea level rise, and are willing to work with whoever it takes to deal with it,” Rooney said in an interview.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania was the only other Republican interested in this role but conceded it to Rooney.
“Congressman Rooney is a great legislator and a great friend, and his appointment as co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus is welcome news,” Fitzpatrick told the Examiner. “A leader in the fight against climate change, Francis’ leadership will be instrumental in expanding the ranks of the Climate Solutions Caucus. I look forward to working with him over the next two years to advance bipartisan, pragmatic solutions to this critical issue.”
Rooney will replace former Rep. Carlos Curbelo who joined with Deutch to create the Climate Solutions Caucus two years ago. The caucus mission is to “explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.”
Rooney will also attempt to be named the top Republican on a new climate change committee created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and chaired by Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa.
Frankel co-sponsors No Walls Act
If Trump ultimately decides to declare a national emergency and use funds associated with emergencies, Democrats have promised legal action to thwart it. Rep. Lois Frankel is joining an effort to pre-empt the President.
Frankel is co-sponsoring the No Walls Act filed by New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng. The bill would prohibit the construction of barriers that include fences, concrete and steel slats.
“The President shouldn’t be able to overstep Congress and manufacture a national emergency during a government shutdown all to build his immoral, wasteful wall,” The West Palm Beach Democrat said on social media. “Proud to be an original co-sponsor of Congresswoman Grace Meng’s No Walls Act to stop this overreach.”
Meng admonished Trump for even considering going around Congress, saying “that is not how the Constitution works.”
“It is unconscionable that President Trump is threatening to sidestep Congress and declare a fake national emergency in order to build his wall, as funding for the government and more than 800,000 federal workers hangs in the balance,” Meng said in a statement.
“The passage of my legislation would ensure that this outrageous abuse of power does not happen, and I urge all of my colleagues to support it.”
Trump would, of course, need to sign the legislation even if it did pass the House and Senate. A veto override in a Congress where Republicans almost universally believe in some form of barrier seems like the longest of long shots.
Deutch unnerved by latest Trump collusion narrative
After a lull on the Trump/Russia collusion front, The New York Times reignited the narrative with a story detailing how the FBI launched an investigation into President Trump on whether he worked for Russia. Democrats saw a bombshell while Republicans likened the story’s contents to a firecracker.
Among those unnerved was Rep. Ted Deutch. In a tweet, he painted a bleak picture of the situation.
“This is unnerving,” the Boca Raton Democrat said. “The nonpartisan civil servants of the FBI, who pledged to protect our nation, were so alarmed that @Potus may be compromised by the Russians that felt it their duty to investigate.”
Trump responded to a question about whether he worked for Russia as “insulting.” Deutch believes all Americans should be concerned.
“This isn’t about politics; it’s about keeping the White House safe from Russian influence.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said Trump’s sanctions and other action against Russia disprove the story’s premise.
“This whole idea of collusion, they’ve investigated this, the Mueller investigation’s gone on for over a year, they found no collusion between Trump and Russia.”
Ballard Partners launches strategic communications division
After a successful first year as a Washington lobbying firm, Ballard Partners is starting another large venture. The firm announced this week it is launching Ballard Media Group, a bipartisan, full-service strategic communications division.
Leading the effort will be capital veterans James “Jamie” Rubin and Raj Shah.
Among other vital roles, Rubin is a former Assistant Secretary of State and the State Department’s chief spokesman during the Obama administration. Shah was most recently a top strategist in the Trump White House and led the communications effort during the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“With increasing frequency, we are asked for sophisticated media relations and public affairs counsel beyond our lobbying practice,” said Brian Ballard, the firm’s president and founder. “We are assembling this team, led by Raj and Jamie, to provide the same results in the communications and public relations arena that we have developed a reputation for providing in the lobbying world.”
On this day in the headlines
Jan. 15, 2004 — The cosmic blueprint for sending astronauts to the moon and Mars has drawn mixed reactions and left many in the dark over the effects in Florida, specifically the timetable of manned missions launched from Kennedy Space Center. Some worry the space shuttles will be retired around 2014 before their replacements come online.
“If there’s a gap in manned flight, that would be a mistake,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who flew on the 24th shuttle mission in 1986. “They need to use the shuttle while developing new vehicles, and if they don’t overlap and there’s a gap of six or eight years, Kennedy Space Center would be in trouble.”
Jan. 15, 2009 — The Senate warmly received several of President-elect Barack Obama’s choices for cabinet positions this week, continuing an aggressive push to confirm them by Inauguration Day. Senate Democrats and Republicans praised the selections and pledged to confirm them quickly.
Obama’s choice to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, said six-month waits to have a disability claim processed would not be acceptable under his watch. Shinseki promised to modernize the nation’s second-largest agency.
Mast’s great excuse
Last week, Rep. Brian Mast was absent for a few votes in the House. His absence attracted the attention of some of his colleagues, but it turns out there was plenty of justification for missing those votes.
On Thursday the Palm City Republican and his wife Brianna became parents for the fourth time with the birth of their son Major. The youngest member of the Mast clan weighed in at 9 pounds and 3 ounces.
“Baby Major and mommy are both healthy, hungry, and tired,” tweeted Mast.
Major joins his three siblings Magnum, Maverick and Madalyn at his new home.