Wall negotiations hit a wall
The joint House/Senate committee appointed to forge an agreement on a new spending bill has begun deliberations. President Donald Trump is already saying publicly they could be “wasting their time.”
Trump was reacting to reports from the first day’s discussions where the initial proposals from Democrats contained no funding for a wall or barrier. They did not close the door on funding for a barrier, with some saying Democrats were leaving some “wiggle room.”
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said “there’s room for a conversation” about whether certain barriers might be the best security strategy in some places along the border.
Despite the slight olive branch, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to dump a barrel of cold water on a compromise by firmly stating “There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation.”
This may have provoked Trump to offer his assessment after one day of meetings.
“Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee are wasting their time,” he tweeted. “Democrats, despite all of the evidence, proof and Caravans coming, are not going to give money to build the DESPERATELY needed WALL. I’ve got you covered. Wall is already being built, I don’t expect much help!”
The committee is made up of 7 Senators and 10 Representatives, none of whom come from the Florida delegation. With the House responsible for generating funding bills, the group is chaired by New York Democrat Nita Lowey.
All 17 are members of either their chamber’s appropriations committee or the committee responsible for homeland security appropriations.
Republicans have the goal of working in Trump’s earlier offer of wall funding for DACA protection and those in the country on a temporary basis. Sen. Rick Scott voiced the view of most Republicans.
“We’ve got to have a permanent fix for DACA. We’ve got to have a permanent fix for (Temporary Protected Status) TPS,” said the first-term Republican. “And we have to have a permanent fix for border security, so we don’t go through this every year.”
As new caravans approach, Trump will talk more about a national emergency and his continuing hints he will declare one. This would precede an attempt to divert emergency funding for the wall.
Rubio Middle East bill advances
On the first day of the new Congress (less than a month ago, if you can believe it), Rubio launched a new bill designed to address the ever-present threats of terrorism overseas. His Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East bill passed the Senate by a 74-19 vote at what can best be described as lightning speed in that chamber.
The legislation would make improvements to defense and security programs in the Middle East and strengthen partnerships between Israel, Jordan and the U.S., according to Rubio’s office. It also provides new authority to sanction the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
“I commend my colleagues for putting politics aside and supporting this critical bill of bipartisan measures that will keep America and our allies safer and more secure,” Rubio said in a news release. “It is in America’s national security interests to ensure that our allies in the Middle East like Israel and Jordan remain secure amid the region’s growing destabilizing threats posed by Iran and Syria’s Assad regime.
Despite the speed at moving through the Senate, it could have gone more quickly. Democrats put it on the back burner while the government was in partial shutdown mode.
Scott was among those voting with the majority. He applauded the measure and tweaked Democrats for holding it up.
“I was proud to support Sen. Rubio’s Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 tonight and will continue to advocate for strengthening the security of our strongest ally, Israel,” Scott said. “Supporting Israel should never be a partisan issue, and I was shocked Chuck Schumer held this bill up.
Rubio called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi “to quickly take it up in the House.”
Scott blasts abortion bill
The issue of abortion has divided Americans for decades, but polls have shown Americans support a woman’s right to choose the procedure during the first trimester. With New York now allowing third-trimester abortions and Virginia contemplating the same, Scott blasted Virginia and its Governor for supporting the concept.
Virginia Democratic Delegate Kathy Tran is shown on video supporting her bill, which went viral, admitting an abortion could be performed up to the minute the child is delivered if the life and/or health of the mother was at stake.
Later, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam appeared on a radio show saying, among other things, the “infant would be kept comfortable” after birth if the decision was made to abort the child during labor.
This is not a partisan issue. What’s described here is barbaric and those advocating for it should be ashamed. Democrats all over America need to stand up and condemn this. ”This is not a partisan issue,” Scott tweeted. “What’s described here is barbaric and those advocating for it should be ashamed. Democrats all over America need to stand up and condemn this.”
Republicans in the Virginia Assembly banded together to kill the bill in committee.
Scott’s language was tame as opposed to others weighing in. Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse said, “I don’t care what party you’re from — if you can’t say that it’s wrong to leave babies to die after birth, get the hell out of public office.”
Rubio described Northam’s comments as condoning “infanticide.”
Scott touts Homeland Security appointments
After his appointment to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Scott learned his subcommittee assignments. Scott will serve on the Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management and the Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee.
Making the announcement was committee chairman Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Ranking Member Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan.
Trump’s recognition of Guaidó praised, criticized
As tension increases in Venezuela, the U.S. is leading the way in attempts to force dictator Nicolas Maduro from power using sanctions instead of bullets. The Trump administration, joined by several countries, has recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of the oil-rich, but economically broken nation.
Wednesday was a big day in Washington as Trump called Guaidó to congratulate him on assuming the role of leader and welcomed a delegation of officials associated with him. The leaders met with Vice President Mike Pence as well as Rubio, who serves as chairman of the Senate subcommittee covering the Western Hemisphere.
“The U.S. stands in support of Provisional President Juan Guaidó and his newly appointed emissaries to the U.S., Carlos Vecchio and Gustavo Tarre Briceño,” Rubio said after the meeting.
“As Venezuela’s road to democracy begins, the U.S. and its regional allies have a duty to support their restoration of democratic order and freedom. I will continue to work closely with the Trump Administration, which has shown tremendous leadership advocating for the Venezuelan people.”
Trump’s overt actions supporting Guaidó’ were not universally praised. Some Democrats, including Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and former Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, questioned the President’s approach.
“Chest-thumping declarations that melt away over time weaken American power and credibility,” the two wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
Others accuse the administration of playing “wag the dog,” to distract attention away from the Mueller investigation and recent indictment of Trump confidante Roger Stone. Attacks from Democrats against other Democrats for praising Trump’s actions also surfaced.
CBC asked to remove Bush 41 tribute
An issue is heading toward four Democratic members of the Florida delegation that could prove to be uncomfortable. It involves a decision by Hampton University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), to include a sculpture of former President George H.W. Bush on its campus.
The Bush sculpture is among others such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama. That is not sitting well with Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr. and his father, former Rep. Bill Clay.
Both Clays want the Congressional Black Caucus to join them in a letter opposing the Bush sculpture.
“When you think about the legacy of President George H.W. Bush, it is not one that you can hold up as someone who believed in equal justice for all,” the younger Clay said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. ”When you think about the legacy of President George H.W. Bush it is not one that you can hold up as someone who believed in equal justice for all,” the younger Clay said in an interview. “When you think about the legacy of President George H.W. Bush it is not one that you can hold up as someone who believed in equal justice for all,” the younger Clay said in an interview.
Clay cited Bush’s appointment of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court as a significant factor in his reasoning.
Following Bush’s death, tributes from Republicans and Democrats from around the country poured in. This included gracious statements from Florida Democrats Al Lawson, Val Demings, Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson.
They are now being asked to back the removal of a tribute to someone they praised only two months ago.
Gaetz an AOC fanboy
Few first-term representatives in recent memory have generated the buzz as that created by New York Democrat Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. From the Green New Deal to taxing the mega-wealthy at 70 percent, the newest Democrat star is often seen on television advocating for her views.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach is a polar opposite of Ocasio-Cortez on policy. Yet, he has invited the Congressional rookie, commonly known as “AOC,” via Twitter to work with him on tweaking laws on marijuana use.
While Gaetz is far from sold on her policies concerning other issues, he expressed admiration at how she fights for them. He looks to be a similar advocate for his views.
“I aspire to be the conservative AOC,” Gaetz told POLITICO. He added “I can’t dance for shit,” referencing a recent viral video of Ocasio-Cortez busting a few moves during her college days.
Gaetz is joined in the admiration society by Steve Bannon. The former White House adviser talked about her spirit and determination, saying “you either have it or you don’t and she has it, big league.”
She is in better standing with Gaetz and Bannon than among some in her own party. Some Democrats are reportedly looking at ways to find a primary challenger to run against her next year.
Lawson seeks veteran business tax credits
Lawson introduced the Veterans Jobs Opportunity Act to help veterans who invest in their communities through entrepreneurship. The bill would provide a new business-related tax credit of 15 percent for the startup expenses of a veteran-owned small business.
Business owners could receive a credit of up to 15 percent on beginning expenditures up to $80,000. To be eligible for the credit, the business must be owned and controlled by one or more veterans or spouses of veterans and have a principal place of business in an underserved community.
“Creating [an] opportunity for returning veterans is a top priority for me,” the Democrat from Tallahassee said. “These men and women bring back real-world leadership and technical skills that will strengthen our economy. The Veterans Jobs Opportunity Act will help eligible veterans, their spouses, Army Reserve and National Guard members invest and revitalize their communities through entrepreneurship, all while boosting our local economies.”
According to the Census Bureau, Veteran-owned small businesses create jobs and stimulate the economy. Veterans own 2.5 million businesses which represent about 9.1 percent of all U.S. businesses with more than $1 trillion in revenue and 5 million employees.
The Veterans Jobs Opportunity Act has 29 co-sponsors from across the country, including Florida Democrats Hastings, Wilson, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Darren Soto of Kissimmee, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.
Soto tackles bitcoin
With the increasing use of cryptocurrency such as bitcoin, ways to deal with its growing popularity has been on the radar of Congress for several months. This week, the Congressional Blockchain Caucus was formed to deal with the technology involved with virtual currency.
Among the four bipartisan members appointed to lead the group was Soto. The Democrat from Kissimmee joins Republican Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota and David Schweikert of Arizona along with Democratic Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois co-chairs.
On Wednesday, Soto introduced two pieces of legislation to help prevent virtual currency price manipulation and position the United States to be a leader in the cryptocurrency industry. The Virtual Currency Consumer Protection Act of 2019 and the U.S. Virtual Currency Market and Regulatory Competitiveness Act of 2019, will analyze what can be done to protect consumers from price manipulation and ensure America remains a global leader in fostering innovation in this evolving global marketplace.
“Virtual currencies and the underlying blockchain technology has a profound potential to be a driver of economic growth,” Soto said in a news release. “That’s why we must ensure that the United States is at the forefront of protecting consumers and the financial well-being of virtual currency investors, while also promoting an environment of innovation to maximize the potential of these technological advances.”
The two bills, co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Ted Budd of North Carolina and Warren Davidson of Ohio, direct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and other financial regulators to make critical recommendations for how to improve the regulatory environment for both the consumer and business development side.
According to Soto, this legislation is crucial in light of concerns raised in the New York Attorney General’s recent report on virtual exchanges’ risk of manipulation and The Wall Street Journal’s description of potentially abusive software of bots manipulating the price of bitcoin.
Orange County gets HIV/AIDS grant
Orange County is receiving a significant jolt in the effort to help families and individuals dealing with HIV/AIDS to receive the health care they need. Orlando area Democratic Reps. Demings, Soto and Stephanie Murphy jointly announced a federal grant of $10 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to Orange County to help those in need receive health care and support services.
“This grant is a massive win for Orange County and a light of hope for thousands of HIV-positive individuals in Central Florida,” said Demings. “Incredible advancements in medical science can extend lives, suppress symptoms, and reduce the risks of transmission, but access to these treatments is not evenly distributed.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Orlando metro area is home to about 10,000 to 12,000 individuals living with HIV or AIDS. The Orlando area also ranked sixth-highest in new HIV diagnoses among U.S. cities in 2015.
“We are pleased to announce Orange County received a generous federal grant to assist individuals and families living with HIV,” said Soto. “Just a few years ago, Florida had the second highest rate of HIV diagnoses, with the Orlando metro-area ranking sixth among U.S. cities for the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses.”
According to HHS, the HIV Emergency Relief Program provides direct financial assistance to Eligible Metropolitan Areas and Transitional Grant Areas that have been the most severely affected by the HIV epidemic. The grant helps enhance access to high quality, community-based care for individuals and families with HIV and supports strategies to reach minority populations.
“I’m pleased to join my colleagues in announcing this large investment in Orange County, which will help individuals, families and communities affected by HIV/AIDS,” said Murphy. “Central Florida has made great strides in the fight against HIV over the years, and I have no doubt these federal dollars will support the lifesaving work being done in our community.”
Deutch moves up to chair
After serving as the ranking member on the House Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism Subcommittee for six years, Rep. Ted Deutch was elected chairman this week.
The subcommittee’s jurisdiction covers the region spanning from Morocco to Iran and Yemen to Israel. Its purview includes international terrorist threats, international programs to prevent and combat terrorism, and efforts to bring international terrorists to justice.
“I’m deeply honored to lead this important subcommittee over a region of such significance to our national security and global stability,” the Boca Raton Democrat said.
“Now more than ever, Congress must present a clear foreign policy vision. From humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen to the destabilizing threats of Iran and ISIS, and to ensure Israel’s security while supporting efforts to advance a two-state solution, we cannot afford to turn our attention or our resources away.”
Mast also serves on the subcommittee. During Deutch’s tenure as a ranking member, leading the subcommittee was now-retired Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Paycheck Fairness Act launched
A group of Democratic lawmakers, including Pelosi, have reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is a measure intended to strengthen equal pay protections for women.
The proposed bill, which has tried to pass for 20 years, would add additional protections to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Fair Labor Standards Act, trying to close the gender wage gap. It would ban salary secrecy, increase penalties for employers who retaliate against workers who share wage information and allow workers to sue for damages of pay discrimination.
The bill’s reintroduction marks the 10th anniversary in which President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a Supreme Court decision that limited the period in which employees could file an equal pay lawsuit related to pay discrimination.
“(Ten) years ago today, the @LillyLedbetter Fair Pay Act was passed in effort to promote #equalpay, tweeted Rep. Donna Shalala of Miami. “While there has been progress, we still have more work to accomplish in closing the wage gap for women in RT if women deserve dollar-for-dollar that men earn! #Ledbetter10”
Rep. Lois Frankel tweeted “When I was a young public defender, I learned my male colleague — who had the same job as me — was making a higher salary. While that was 40 years ago, this is all too common for so many women today & why we must pass the #PaycheckFairnessAct!”
House Republicans argue that the bill would make it too easy for workers to sue firms over pay inequality allegations and lead to unnecessary lawsuits. In addition, they believe the bill is unnecessary since gender discrimination is already illegal and that the bill would only discourage companies from hiring women.
Mast praises SFWMD reshuffling
During the transition period, Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly leaned on the experience of Rep. Brian Mast as he developed policy proposals dealing with algae, red tide and Everglades restoration. As DeSantis moves forward implementing his agenda, Mast is not hesitant to weigh in on matters that involve his district.
Following a controversial lease extension decision by the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Mast recommended the governor replace the entire board. Despite resistance from some members, DeSantis followed Mast’s recommendations and this week announced the first new appointments.
DeSantis chose former Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Ron Bergeron and Sanibel City Councilman Chauncey Goss to serve on the board. Goss is the son of former Republican Congressman and former CIA Director Porter Goss.
Mast was laudatory toward both appointments.
“(Bergeron) has a proven track record of not taking crap from anyone in his pursuit of doing what is best for the Everglades — a perspective that is sorely needed on a board that for far too long has operated without any transparency and prioritized special interests above the people of Florida.”
Mast called Goss “a great pick in the fight to make South Florida Water Management District represent the people, not special interests.”
FMA lobbies up
The Florida Medical Association (FMA) today announced it has engaged the Anway Long Group to represent them on federal policy issues before Congress and the Trump Administration. Anway Long is a policy and government relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee.
“With the continued intense focus on health care issues and Medicare in particular and given the Florida Medical Association’s unique position as the representative organization for physicians in Medicare’s second-largest state, it makes a great deal of sense for us to enhance our outreach efforts in D.C.,” said CEO Tim Stapleton.
“The Anway Long Group gives us access to a combined 30 years of federal health care policy and political expertise, with the added comfort of having boots on the ground in Tallahassee.”
The FMA will engage in policy issues such as Graduate Medical Education funding, the development of alternative payment models in Medicare, and other matters impacting physicians in Florida and their patients.
On this day in the headlines
Feb. 1, 2006 — After the most partisan Supreme Court battle in more than a decade, Samuel Alito was sworn in as the 110th justice on the nation’s highest court, where he is expected to usher in a new era of judicial conservatism. Republican Sen. Mel Martinez was among the 58 voting to confirm Alito, while Democrat Bill Nelson joined 41 other colleagues in voting no.
Alito replaces the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the court and a swing vote on controversial issues. He is the second appointment by President George W. Bush, who selected John Roberts to be Chief Justice in September.
Feb. 1, 2017 — President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a fast-rising conservative judge with a writer’s flair, to the Supreme Court, setting up a fierce fight with Democrats over a jurist who could shape America’s legal landscape for decades to come. At 49, he is the youngest nominee in a quarter century.
With the widow of Justice Antonin Scalia, the man Gorsuch would replace, sitting nearby, the appeals court judge thanked Trump for the honor. Describing his philosophy Gorsuch said, “It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people’s representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge.”