Blue Dogs and border security
Friday afternoon brought the long-sought end to the partial government shutdown. Immediately, winners and losers were chosen, with President Donald Trump the clear loser. Even though Democrats in Congress were just as willing to keep the government closed until they got their way, public opinion turned against Trump.
Much of that likely came when the President boasted to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he would gladly take the blame for a shutdown in the name of border security.
Most of the public seemed to take him up on that.
While commentators pounded Trump for getting “rolled” by Pelosi, he also had to put up with the likes of Ann Coulter, the author of a glowing book about him. Coulter, who often shows a knack for tasteless commentary, tweeted that the late former President George H.W. Bush was no longer the biggest wimp to serve in the White House.
If Trump and Republicans are getting the lion’s share of the blame for shutting down the government, who deserves the credit for Friday’s temporary truce?
Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park believes Blue Dog Democrats, a group she co-chairs, deserves some of the credit. The group, which also counts Rep. Charlie Crist among its members, sent a letter to Congressional leadership last week containing their thoughts on a suggested framework for a deal that resembled the final product.
“The @HouseBlueDogs laid out a clear path to compromise this wk: 1) reopen govt 2) host bipartisan, bicameral summit on border security. Now that there is an agreement that follows this framework, I look forward to hashing out a sensible plan that both sides can agree to,” Murphy tweeted Friday afternoon.
The @HouseBlueDogs laid out a clear path to compromise this wk: 1) reopen govt 2) host bipartisan, bicameral summit on border security. Now that there is an agreement that follows this framework, I look forward to hashing out a sensible plan that both sides can agree to.
— Rep. Stephanie Murphy (@RepStephMurphy) January 25, 2019
What happens next is anyone’s guess, but with Trump involved, no one can be certain. He seems pessimistic Congress will make a deal that he likes, leaving open the possibility of a declaration of emergency.
Democratic Rep. Al Lawson said in a statement: “It is my hope that in these next three weeks, we can work across party lines to provide smart and effective border security measures that are in the best interest of the American people.”
Lawson’s Republican colleague, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, is hoping for the same thing but tossed the ball into Pelosi’s court. “In a tweet, he urged the speaker to come to an agreement and if that fails “I call on @RealDonaldTrump to build the wall using the powers granted to the executive branch.”
That sentiment is shared by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but opposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (see below).
Feb. 15 is the next deadline to forge an agreement on border security. Can Murphy, Crist and the Blue Dogs form another framework that could forge compromise from both sides?
In less than three weeks we will find out.
Rubio: Emergency declaration a bad idea
The clock is ticking for producing a solution on a border security package that will lead to another clash Feb. 15. If the two sides do not find a middle ground, Trump will either cave entirely or will declare a national emergency and seek to build a barrier on the southern border with Mexico using emergency funds.
Most Republicans agree with that, but Rubio still does not. Earlier in the month, he urged Trump not to take that step; he now plainly calls it “a terrible idea.”
“I hope he doesn’t do it,” Rubio said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I don’t think it’s leverage.”
He repeated his previous concern that a declaration of national emergency would be tied up in the courts indefinitely and future presidents could make a similar resolution on issues they feel strongly about.
“I think the best way to do it is to have a law passed that funds border security, so we know it’s going to happen,” he added.
Easier said than done. At the same time, his comments are likely to be used by Democrats to support their position.
House Republicans are publicly supporting Trump’s goal of a border wall (or barrier) but will accept a final product that Jacksonville Republican Rep. John Rutherford described as “a compromise built on the priorities of (Department of Homeland Security) experts on the ground to keep our country safe.”
Scott seeks more Puerto Rico aid
During his last year as governor and during last fall’s campaign, Sen. Rick Scott made several trips to Puerto Rico, taking steps to benefit residents and those who fled to Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Politically, the result was a stronger-than-usual showing for a Republican in the Central Florida Hispanic community — bringing a narrow win over former Sen. Bill Nelson.
Last week Scott told Puerto Rico he “will be your voice” in the Senate. He followed that up with a request for an additional $600 million in disaster recovery funding for the commonwealth.
“In Florida, we took aggressive action to support Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican community since before Hurricane Maria even made landfall, but our work isn’t done,” Scott said. “Puerto Rico does not have a voice in the United States Senate. I intend to be that voice.”
The additional funding was contained in the House spending bill approved before the shutdown ended. It was not in the Senate bill, but negotiations to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year are now underway with a Feb. 15 deadline.
“This funding is so important to help Puerto Rico continue to recover after Hurricane Maria, and I thank Sen. Scott for taking quick action to make this happen,” said Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico. “I look forward to working closely with him to support the Puerto Rican community.”
Rubio, Gaetz support Maduro opponent
With momentum seemingly growing to oust Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, an alleged meeting between opposition leader Juan Guaidó and a senior member of the Maduro regime has started the #GuaidoChallenge. While a Maduro official, Diosdado Cabello, denies the meeting took place, a social media trend is developing anyway.
A reported photo of Guaidó entering a hotel wearing a disguise that included a hoodie and a baseball cap was followed supposedly by Cabello. Soon after photos of regular people, politicians, and even pets wearing hoodies were posted online.
Over the weekend, The New York Times published a story giving Rubio the title of “Ouster in Chief.” At the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to the U.N. to drum up support for Maduro’s ouster.
Maduro is under growing pressure as tens of thousands of protesters calling for his removal took to the streets of Caracas. Late last week, Trump announced his support for Guaidó and the Bank of England blocked the regime’s attempt to withdraw $1.2 billion in gold.
SOTU back on
Last week, the State of the Union address was postponed until the government reopened. The annual tradition was scheduled for Tuesday, but Pelosi’s aides confirmed that would not happen.
After withdrawing the invitation to Trump, speculation centered on the new date for the address would fall Feb. 5. On Tuesday afternoon, the speaker officially invited Trump to appear on that date.
In a short, four-sentence letter, Pelosi said that after a conversation between the two, “Therefore, I invite you to deliver your State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Feb. 5, 2019, in the House Chamber.”
The postponement was only the second to occur this century. The other came 33 years ago, following the space shuttle Challenger disaster (see below).
While the shutdown was underway, Pelosi pointed to security concerns for postponing the event. The Secret Service indicated they could protect the President, prompting Pelosi to revoke the official invitation for Trump to speak.
Crist takes on spam
Americans across the country complain about unwanted calls — and a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to help. Two Republicans and two Democrats, including Crist, are teaming up to tackle spam calls, introducing the Spam Calls Task Force Act which would create an interagency task force to find a collective solution to this growing problem.
The legislation directs the Attorney General to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to convene an interagency working group with other federal and state agencies to address several issues relating to spam calls. A common theme among those filing the legislation was these types of calls are more than just irritating.
“Night and day, Americans are being inundated by spam calls. It’s more than an annoyance — it’s an invasion of privacy … used to deceive and take advantage of unsuspecting victims,” said Crist. “Working together across the aisle and across agencies, we can better protect the people from this predatory practice.”
Louisiana Republican Garrett Graves (another co-sponsor) called the practice “an invasion of privacy.”
The bill seeks to identify areas where enforcement and prevention can be enhanced, including possible partnerships with state and federal governments as well as international entities. Also, the legislation calls for exploring whether additional resources and penalties would be helpful.
Other co-sponsors are Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright and North Carolina Republican Walter Jones.
(Note: Over the weekend, Jones entered hospice care after his health declined significantly following a recent fall resulting in a broken hip.)
With a few exceptions, Democrats have consistently on the same page on environmental issues. Rep. Kathy Castor can sport some environmental bona fides on her legislative resume, but that is not enough for some new-generation progressives who want more.
Castor is now in the spotlight after Pelosi appointed her to chair the new House climate change committee. The young progressives, which include outspoken newcomers such as Democratic Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York, want bold approaches, such as a commitment to a “Green New Deal” to come out of Castor’s committee.
“Everything that Kathy Castor does needs to be in line with that or she will be selling our generation short,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, backers of the Green New Deal.
Among the cornerstones of the Green New Deal is a demand for 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Castor supports greater reliance on renewable energy but has not committed to ultimately end the use of oil and gas.
“If I look back a few years from now and we haven’t moved the needle at all, then someone else should take a turn,” Castor said. “But I’m not going to rest until we make true progress.”
While the conflict between the competing strategies will play out and Castor will be challenged, she has the backing of the environmental community, including those who know her best.
“We’ve got a new group of Young Turks who are making their mark and challenging the establishment,” said Frank Jackalone, director of the Sierra Club Florida, “and I just think (Castor) is the wrong target. She’s as progressive as they are.”
DCCC hits Spano, Mast
Less than one month into the 116th Congress, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has begun the effort to make sure two Florida Republicans are not part of the 117th.
The campaign arm of House Democrats recently launched social media ads attacking Rep. Ross Spano of Dover and Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City, tying them to the recently paused government shutdown.
“The Coast Guard, Border Patrol & TSA just missed another paycheck, thanks to Rep. Spano,” reads one of the ads. The digital ads are running on Facebook and geo-targeted to constituents in competitive districts nationwide, according to the DCCC.
According to the ad, Mast and Spano, along with other Republicans in competitive districts around the country, were responsible for the Border Patrol, Coast Guard and the Transportation Safety Administration missing two paychecks.
“When you work hard to keep our country safe, you should receive your paycheck, period,” said DCCC spokesperson Cole Leiter.
The two Republicans are part of 33 seats targeted for defeat by the DCCC. No other Floridians are on the list, which focuses heavily on Texas and New York.
Mast can mount a defense, if necessary, through his sponsorship of a bill to pay the Coast Guard during the shutdown. Democrats kept that bill, as well as one offered in the Senate, from passing.
No regrets for Rooney
The recent partial government shutdown demonstrated the atmosphere in Washington is toxic and at least one former member is happy he was not a participant. In an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, former Republican Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee felt his 10 years in Congress was “an honor,” but he does not regret his decision to leave Capitol Hill in the rearview mirror.
“If there was any kind of doubt or second-guessing, governing by brinkmanship on a monthly basis is not the way it’s supposed to work,” Rooney said.
Rooney cited the polarization between the political parties and a media echo chamber that drives the hyper-partisans on both sides. The shutdown was an illustration of the current situation.
He did not govern as a hard-core conservative, instead willing to work with Democrats who were willing to work with him. Rooney was not known as a rigid ideologue, a description linked to Trump as well.
“The thing that I think people liked about Trump in the campaign is he was not going to be Washington as usual and not have to worry about the fringe groups telling him what to do,” Rooney said.
Though he does not regret leaving the “political brinkmanship” of the Trump era, Rooney still has opinions on the future of the country and the Republican Party.
“That party has definitely shifted toward Trump and what Trump says,” he said. “I would be lying if I said I’m always in line with where the party is now, but maybe that’s just temporary. I do remember enough from grad school in political science that there are realignments in parties.”
Deutch ‘disappointed’ with Runcie
Last week a public forum featuring Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie was abruptly canceled after plans for protests were revealed. The discussion was organized by parents of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Rep. Ted Deutch was not happy the superintendent was not there to talk about school safety. The parent group said they were “extremely disappointed” with Runcie’s decision.
Deutch wrote to Runcie expressing his frustration and invited him to attend a town hall “at a time that is convenient for you and members of the Broward County School Board to discuss these important issues.”
Instead, Runcie revealed he will meet with parents in four separate meetings to discuss safety.
“In recent months, I have spoken with many constituents, including families of victims of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have greatly anticipated an opportunity to have their questions answered and their voices heard in a public setting regarding efforts to secure Broward County’s schools,” Deutch said.
“They deserve an opportunity for meaningful engagement with elected representatives, school officials, parents and other community members. A town hall meeting will give them this important opportunity.”
Several parents have called on Runcie to resign.
On this day in the headlines
Jan. 29, 1986 — The space shuttle Challenger exploded into a fireball over the Atlantic Ocean on during its ascent into space, killing all seven aboard including teacher Christa McAuliffe. It was the worst accident in the history of space exploration and the first fatal accident in 56 American manned space flights.
President Ronald Reagan postponed the State of the Union address, instead offering a tribute from the Oval Office. Reagan praised those lost and said, “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”
Jan. 29, 2010 — President Barack Obama promised that one day he would be a passenger on a high-speed train connecting Orlando and Tampa. “I’m going to come back down here and ride it,” he pledged during a Tampa town hall also attended by Vice President Joe Biden.
The project, which would reportedly create approximately 1,000 jobs and an infusion of $1 billion federal dollars, also had its critics. Republican Rep. John Mica of Winter Park said, “the last thing the American people need is another bailout program with low-speed trains to nowhere.”
Jan. 31 to U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida’s 6th Congressional District.