King legacy for all to embrace
On Monday, the nation celebrated the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Gatherings were filled with poignant remembrances of who he was, what he stood for, how he went about it, and how his life was taken in pursuit of his “dream.”
After President Ronald Reagan signed the federal recognition of the holiday in 1983, it took shape in the states, but at varying speeds. It was not until 2000 that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was recognized in all 50 states.
The campaign to recognize the civil rights leader began 50 years ago, just months after his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, individuals of all races recall what King meant to today’s America.
His broad message of nonviolent protest carried similar, but sometimes different meanings to those who heard it.
“Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God,” said President Donald Trump.
“Today as we honor the life of Dr. King, we must always remember his words: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” said Sen. Rick Scott.
Sen. Marco Rubio said, “Today we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and reflect on his vision of a world built on equality that has helped shape our great nation and inspire freedom movements around the world.”
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy learned “Dr. King’s legacy taught us to keep fighting no matter how dark or impossible things may seem.” Republican Rep. John Rutherford said: “Each one of us can strive as he did to eliminate hate, to stand up for the oppressed, and protect the innocent.”
After King’s assassination April 4, 1968, change still progressed at a measured pace. The delegation had no African-American members at the time and it would take nearly a quarter century before that would change.
In 1992, former Rep. Corrine Brown and the late Rep. Carrie Meek joined with Rep. Alcee Hastings to become the first African-Americans elected to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction. Hastings’ message Monday carried special significance.
“Each of us has a responsibility to reject prejudice, foster tolerance, and work to level the playing field so that each American family can live with dignity,” the Miramar Democrat said. “I join in celebrating Dr. King’s legacy today as we continue the hard work of transforming our country into the place we know it should be.”
Second-term Rep. Val Demings from Orlando offered “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”
Last week would have been King’s 90th birthday. Despite spending less than 40 years on earth, he was able to do enough to leave a powerful legacy that all Americans would do well to embrace.
Rubio seeks to cut off Maduro regime access to funds
One of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro’s main antagonists in the U.S. has been Rubio. Florida’s senior Senator has sought numerous sanctions and even indirectly called for a coup against him.
Now that Maduro has a legitimate opposition leader, Rubio is calling on the U.S. government to do its part in keeping the Venezuelan strongman from accessing the country’s financial resources. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Rubio asked the Trump administration to honor the Venezuelan National Assembly’s requests to block Maduro’s access to government funds.
The National Assembly is also calling on 46 countries, including the United States, to prohibit the transfer of liquid assets from Venezuela. A related request also asks that the same countries prohibit the transfer of funds to and from accounts controlled by the Venezuelan state.
“I urge you to use all tools available to prohibit the Maduro regime’s further pillaging of assets that rightly belong to the Venezuelan people and its legitimate government by either holding them in a reserve or making them available to the National Assembly and to a legitimate transitional President as called for under that nation’s constitution,” Rubio wrote.
Scott accuses Schumer of bad faith
The latest back and forth in the ongoing shutdown saga is paying a branch of the U.S. military. Scott is claiming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is “refusing to negotiate in good faith” in an effort to pay members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Scott, a Navy veteran, said Senate Democrats will not vote for the Pay Our Coast Guard Act. Scott and Rubio are among the bill’s 25 co-sponsors. Republican Rep. Brian Mast is a co-sponsor of the companion House bill.
The bill would ensure members of the U.S. Coast Guard would be paid during the ongoing partial government shutdown. The shutdown is now one month old, making it the longest in American History.
“Not only is Sen. Schumer refusing to negotiate in good faith on taking real steps to secure our border, now he’s blocking bipartisan efforts to make sure the men and women of our Coast Guard get paid,” Scott said in a statement.
“That’s reprehensible,” he added. “The Coast Guard risk their lives every day to protect our coasts in Florida. They shouldn’t suffer because of the dysfunction of Washington.”
Trump’s DACA-for-wall offer rebuffed
While the shutdown persists, Republicans and Democrats can agree that the government needs to be reopened, but each insists the other side holds the key to making that happen. In an attempt to either start a dialogue or show Republicans are trying to end the stalemate, Trump offered to trade temporary DACA protections for $5.7 billion in border wall funding.
As expected, Democrats immediately rejected the offer, telling Trump the government must be reopened before they will engage. Others claimed the President created theDACAA situation in the first place, making it a bad deal for Democrats.
Rubio took Trump’s offer as a starting point, not the look of a final package.
“The way to end this shutdown is for both sides to make mutual concessions in order to reach an agreement,” he said. “The President has made a very reasonable offer to extend DACA and TPS protections in exchange for the border security measures he supports.”
Trump got a bit of a boost when the left-leaning Washington Post seemed to agree with the notion of protecting “dreamers,” which would then reopen the government. Many of those furloughed are D.C.-based government employees who regularly read the Post.
At the same time, the President is taking incoming fire from his right flank. Conservative immigration hard-liners describe his offer as “amnesty,” one they cannot support.
For those keeping score, Democrats are seemingly unified, while some in the media at least want to see both sides working on a deal. Republicans have cracks among those who want to end the shutdown or want no deal that allows illegal immigrants to stay.
Suspension of elections supervisor draws strong reactions
After Gov. Ron DeSantis rescinded the suspension of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who then retired, he then went after the one in charge of the other problem-filled county from 2018. The suspension of Palm Beach County elections supervisor Susan Bucher by DeSantis brought differing reactions from two Florida colleagues.
Numerous Republicans, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, who was heavily involved in the DeSantis campaign, praised the governor for removing Bucher. During the 2018 recounts, Gaetz and Republicans often tweeted or announced their suspicions of Bucher and her operation.
“Back as far as 2012Fmrr. Palm Beach Supervisor Susan Bucher was picking the wrong winners in elections,” the Republican from Fort Walton Beach tweeted. Thank you, @GovRonDeSantis for your leadership in suspending her.”
Bucher had several supporters at the news conference held by DeSantis to announce Bucher’s suspension, but she also had the support of Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach. Frankel blasted DeSantis for the move.
“This is a direct power grab and politically motivated move by Gov. Ron DeSantis that undermines our democratic process and sets a dangerous precedent,” the West Palm Beach Democrat said.
Yoho seeking to streamline VA claims
Another initiative designed to improve the process for veterans to obtain their benefits was launched last week by Rep. Ted Yoho. Along with 60 co-sponsors, Yoho introduced the WINGMAN bill that would allow veterans, or those helping them file claims, to bypass the Veterans Affairs when obtaining necessary records to file the claims.
“The interaction between congressional offices and the VA, on behalf of our nation’s veterans, should be seamless,” said the Gainesville Republican. “Our veterans have answered the call to protect us and the freedoms we enjoy every day. It is only right that we do all we can to support and care for them in a timely manner.”
The bill will grant certified congressional staff access to files, which they already have permission to possess, but eliminates the burdensome step of having to use the VA as a “middleman” to receive them.
Under WINGMAN, constituent advocates would be able to access the status of a pending claim, medical records, comp and pen records, rating decisions, statement of the case, supplementary statement of the case, notice of disagreement and Form-9 files within a reasonable amount of time, without having to go through the VA.
“It is unacceptable that extended periods of time pass by before congressional offices are able to receive the files they’ve requested from the VA to help veterans,” Yoho added. “No service member should have to wait to receive- at the very least- information about the benefits they have more than earned.”
Soto, Diaz-Balart seek protections for fleeing Venezuelans
While Rubio was seeking to cut off the money supply to the Maduro regime in Venezuela (see Rubio above), two Florida colleagues are working to assist several desperate people in the economically-ravaged nation.
Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami have introduced the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019, a bill that would allow fleeing Venezuelans to become eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Temporary Protected Status is available to those fleeing countries where armed conflict or natural disasters exist. Natives of Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Somalia and 6 other nations currently reside in the U.S. under TPS.
Venezuela is at or near a point where mass starvation is becoming a real possibility.
“The now illegitimate presidency of Nicolás Maduro has only brought suffering and despair to the people of Venezuela,” Soto said in a joint news release. “During Maduro’s tyrannical rule, Venezuela’s economy has deteriorated at alarming rates, causing a scarcity of basic foods and medicine in the country.
If enacted, the bill would allow those in the country to legally stay and be protected from deportation; permit an employment authorization document EADD); allow travel authorization, and designate an 18-month period of automatic eligibility upon TPS enactment.
“We must not force Venezuelans who have sought safety in the United States to return to such dangerous conditions,” said Diaz-Balart.”
Bilirakis, Steube announce committee assignments
Two Florida Republicans were given new assignments in the 116th Congress. Among those announced this week was the appointment of Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis to the Republican Whip team.
As a whip, Bilirakis will be lining up members to vote on leadership priorities when bills come to the floor. He will be working under Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
“I look forward to serving in this leadership capacity once again, and working toward unifying my colleagues to pass meaningful legislation that keeps our country safe, strong and prosperous,” Bilirakis said in a statement.
Bilirakis previously served on the whip team from 2007-2014 but was stripped of his post. He described that action as stemming from a “vote he cast on behalf of his constituents to ensure the availability of affordable flood insurance.”
He also announced appointments to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Freshman Rep. Greg Steube announced appointments to House Committees on the Judiciary, Oversight & Reform, and Veterans’ Affairs. Steube points out he is “one of a handful of Republicans named to three committees.”
“I am thrilled to share the news that the people of Florida’s 17th District will have strong representation on a range of important issues facing our nation,” the Punta Gorda Republican said in a statement.
“My appointment to these committees will ensure I will fight in support of a wall on our southern border, protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud and abuse, and that our veterans will have one of their own fighting for them in Congress,” he added.
Deutch reintroducing gun buyback program
Staying true to his commitment to taking guns off the streets, Rep. Ted Deutch joined with Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley to reintroduce the Buyback Our Safety Act. This is legislation that would create a Department of Justice Program to support local gun buyback.
The act authorizes a new matching grant available for local law enforcement agencies to help offset costs of buyback programs. The bill would also require the Department of Justice to report to Congress on the program’s progress.
In the aftermath of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, parents created 4FNOWW (“Fewer Firearms, Fewer Funerals Now”), a gun violence prevention organization created to help “remove unwanted, unneeded guns from our community.”
Last September,4FNOWW partnered with the Coral Springs Police Department to host a voluntary, anonymous gun buyback event.
“Buyback programs are an effective way to remove unwanted guns from homes and take them off the streets,” said Deutch. “By giving people the opportunity to safely give up their firearms, these programs are helping to prevent gun accidents at home and reduce the chance of guns falling into the wrong hands.”
Frankel mourns constituent slain in Syria attack
Last week came the news that four Americans were killed in a Syrian bomb blast. Late in the week, three of the four were identified, with one a native of Florida.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer of Boynton Beach died as a result of the attack launched by remnants of ISIS forces. Frankel, who represents the area in Congress, offered condolences to Farmer’s family and friends.
“Heartbroken to hear that Jonathan Farmer was one of the Americans killed in Syria,” Frankel wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts are w/ his family & the families of the service members who lost their lives defending our freedoms. Jonathan selflessly served our country, & his courage & sacrifice won’t be forgotten.”
Deutch, from nearby Boca Raton, also expressed his sympathies.
My heart breaks for the family of Jonathan Farmer of Boynton Beach and the other families for their loss,” he said on Twitter. These service members made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country and the values we stand for. We owe them our unending gratitude.
Wasserman Schultz breaks with national Women’s March
Two years ago, the National Women’s March created a buzz around the country that continued through to the #MeToo movement. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz was among those at the forefront of the marchers.
This year, she remained in Florida, breaking with the national movement and participating in local efforts on behalf of women. In an op-ed for USA Today, Wasserman-Schulz explains growing anti-Semitism among the March’s leadership cannot be supported.
She mentioned Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland by name, also pointing out anti-LGBTQ sentiment among them.
“While I still firmly believe in its values and mission, I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles, which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry,” she wrote. “I cannot walk shoulder to shoulder with leaders who lock arms with outspoken peddlers of hate.”
She was speaking of continued interactions with the Nation of Islam (NOI) and its leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan. The Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed the NOI as a hate group.
“It should not be difficult to condemn this hate speech and the person who constantly voices it,” she added.
Frankel also offered support for the national movement but shared her concern with the current leadership.
“The Women’s March reflects the hopes and dreams of millions of women,” she tweeted. “There is no room for anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry.”
On this day in the headlines
Jan. 22, 1973 — Lyndon B. Johnson, the tall Texan whose dreams of a “great society” to end poverty and social justice were shattered by the Vietnam War, died of a heart attack at the age of 64. With the previous month’s death of former President Harry S. Truman, the nation had no living former presidents for only the fourth time in history.
His death came just days before an end to the war Johnson escalated into a major conflict that divided the nation he wanted to unite. Johnson was stricken at his LBJ ranch in his beloved Texas hill country where he grew up and was pronounced dead on arrival at Brooke Army Medical Hospital in San Antonio.
Jan. 22, 2013 — President Barack Obama took the oath of office for a second term as First Lady Michelle Obama held two bibles; one used by Abraham Lincoln and one owned by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Obama was sworn in as the nation celebrated the MLK Jr. holiday.
Obama offered a robust, liberal vision of America in his inaugural address, embracing gay rights, sustainable energy and big government even as he acknowledged the challenges of a divided nation. He highlighted themes of national unity, but few signs suggested the crippling divisions of his first term were any closer to being mended.