Politics or national emergency?
On Friday the big story was President Donald Trump signing the budget deal to keep the government open. He received the bill late Thursday and signed it Friday before publicly declaring a national emergency exists at the southern border.
While that was the big story, several smaller, Florida-based stories were contained within it. Among those were the votes in the House, which voted 300-128 in favor, and the Senate’s approval by an 86-13 vote.
All delegation House Democrats voted in favor and were joined by Republicans Vern Buchanan, Mario Diaz-Balart, Matt Gaetz, John Rutherford, and Michael Waltz. Only 9 Senate Republicans voted against the bill, but one of them was Sen. Marco Rubio.
Dunn made it clear that he “no” vote centered on what was not in the bill. The Panama City Republican, as well as Rubio, was deeply disappointed that disaster funding for victims of Hurricane Michael was not included.
“I’m going home to a disaster zone,” Dunn lamented Friday to the Tampa Bay Times.
On the other hand, Diaz-Balart voted for the bill because of funding that was included. Hundreds of millions of dollars will go toward infrastructure programs, including one appropriation for $93 million for ports in or near his district.
“I am confident we will continue to see investments made in our communities this year,” Diaz-Balart said.
Attention turned to the emergency declaration. Democratic opposition was broad and focused.
“Trump’s personal political predicament does not qualify as a national emergency,” said Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa. “A bipartisan majority in Congress also rejected funding for the ineffective and wasteful border wall.”
Trump did not help his case when during Friday’s news conference he stated, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” Rubio is among those who believes a crisis exists, but the Constitution does not permit Friday’s declaration.
“I will wait to see what statutory or constitutional power the President relies on to justify such a declaration before making any definitive statement,” Rubio said. “But I am skeptical it will be something I can support.”
Rubio’s counterpart, Republican Sen. Rick Scott, is all-in on the emergency declaration.
“This is a reasoned, measured approach to fulfill his duty as Commander in Chief and keep our country safe,” Scott said in a news release, “and I appreciate that he kept his word to not repurpose funds designated for disaster relief funding for Florida or Puerto Rico, which I’ve discussed with him at length.”
Resolutions of disapproval are expected in both the House and Senate this week. Passage in the House is a given and with Rubio, Sen. Susan Collins and a handful of other Republicans expected to vote against Trump, it may pass in the chamber as well.
The President has already indicated he will veto the resolution. Attempts to override the veto are likely to fall short.
Lawsuits from multiple entities challenging Trump’s declaration are expected this week.
Rubio criticizes Saudis
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has few friends on Capitol Hill. While the Trump White House is reluctant to criticize the Saudi government, the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue wants him to pick up the pace.
Among the harshest Saudi critics is Rubio, who has joined with a bipartisan group of Senators calling for the President to take a tougher stance. Rubio and Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin are leading a resolution urging Trump to make a stronger effort to address two high profile issues involving the Saudis.
The resolution begins with a demand to release women activists, one of which is a permanent U.S. resident, imprisoned by the Kingdom.
“Calling on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to immediately release Saudi Women’s Rights activists and respect the fundamental rights of all Saudi citizens,” it reads.
The Senators also want Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to demand more information on the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The Khashoggi affair represents a small portion of the resolution.
Last week, the House weighed in on the issue of the imprisoned women with a resolution led by Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.
Rubio on Venezuelan border
As the U.S. has approved and shipped humanitarian aid for suffering Venezuelans, Rubio, Diaz-Balart and U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) Carlos Trujillo headed to Venezuela’s border with Colombia. The trio was there to demand the aid gets through to help the long-suffering people of a nation whose economy has fully collapsed.
The military under the direction of President Nicolás Maduro has previously blocked the aid from entering the country. The three urged the military to stand aside for the sake of the people and for their own well-being once the Maduro government finally falls.
“The narcoterrorist tyranny of Nicolás Maduro continues to block critical humanitarian relief for those who continue to suffer under his regime,” Rubio said. “The people of Venezuela remain resilient in their continued fight for democracy and freedom, and the United States will continue to stand with them.”
In a Twitter feed, the three stood before an overturned truck placed by the Maduro regime on the bridge entering Venezuela from Colombia in an attempt to deny the aid. Diaz-Balart pledged the aid will get to those in need.
“As the Maduro regime continues to deny basic necessities to the Venezuelan people, the United States, through coordination with our close ally Colombia, is stepping up to send humanitarian aid to help,” he said.
The group also met with members of the “legitimately elected National Assembly of Venezuela” headed by Juan Guaidó. The U.S. and several countries around the world recognize Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
Scott goes abroad
Over the weekend, the Munich Security Conference was the latest opportunity for American friends and foes to criticize American foreign policy. Attendees for the U.S. included Vice President Mike Pence and a Congressional delegation that included Scott.
“The safety & security of our country is our #1 job and I look forward to a frank, open discussion with our allies and partners about the challenges we face,” Scott tweeted before departing.
Pence focused on the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and urged allies to eventually do the same. American allies, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they were staying put and added, to a standing ovation, that Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria was a mistake.
The conference was officially named “CODEL McCain” in honor of the longtime U.S. Sen. John McCain. The former prisoner of war and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee died on Aug. 25.
Scott was the only Floridian among the group of 7 Senators and 10 members of the House. The group was led by McCain’s close friend, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe roiled the nation on Sunday with his account of why and when the collusion investigation of Trump began. In a 60 Minutes interview, McCabe pointed to what he described as an “inappropriate relationship” between Trump and Russia.
Investigations by Senate and House committees, along with special counsel Robert Mueller, have not turned up evidence of collusion, but others have been prosecuted for unrelated crimes and lying to the FBI.
McCabe also spoke of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wearing a wire into the White House, as well as discussions surrounding invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, which Republicans like Rep. Matt Gaetz were quick to pounce upon. Gaetz and others describe the McCabe/Rosenstein discussions as a “coup.”
“Then-FBI General Counsel Jim Baker confirms the seriousness of the McCabe-Rosenstein #CoupAttempt in House Judiciary transcripts,” Gaetz tweeted. “These unelected people were/are trying to oust our elected President. We’ve been right all along.”
The interview and day-after coverage prompted another tweet storm from the President.
“There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more,” Trump tweeted. This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!”
Sen. Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicated he will conduct a hearing with both Rosenstein and McCabe under oath. He vowed to subpoena them if they did not come voluntarily.
Trump visits Miami
Trump came to Miami this week to talk about the U.S. effort to force Maduro from power in Venezuela. In a speech delivered at Florida International University, the President called on the country’s military to let in humanitarian aid and “work toward democracy.”
In a pitch to the Venezuelan military, Trump gave them a warning the U.S. knows where they are hiding funds overseas and ending their support of Maduro would be in their best interests. Trump and the U.S. are backing Assembly Speaker Guaidó and is trying to convince the military they should switch allegiance to the opposition leader.
“We need to continue doing everything that we can to support the Venezuelan people so that they can swiftly hold free and fair elections, restore stability and restore their democracy,” said Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell on a Monday morning conference call with the media.
Before his arrival in Miami, several Florida Democrats urged him to either announce his support for offering Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelan refugees immediately or not come at all. They were referring to a bill recently offered by Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican and Democratic Rep. Darren Soto to provide those fleeing the Maduro regime with sanctuary.
“We call upon [Trump] to either show support for the TPS bill that we have or, more quickly, simply just grant TPS status,” said Soto.
Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables said the welcome mat for Trump had a condition.
“I have challenged the President not to come to South Florida without announcing the extension of TPS,” said the first-term Democrat. “While we’ve supported many of the moves of this administration for political and economic sanctions, it’s very important that we protect the Venezuelans that are here, that are living in our community.”
Gaetz chimes in
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California believes he knows why his title changed from Majority Leader. He recently told donors the acrimonious effort to repeal “Obamacare” and continuous conflict with the conservative Freedom Caucus played a large part of the GOP’s loss of the majority in the 2018 midterm elections.
That infuriated Gaetz, one of the more outspoken members of the caucus. He had a different source of the problem.
“We lost the midterms because GOP leadership allowed big insurance to write a bill the public couldn’t understand and the politicians couldn’t explain,” Gaetz said on Twitter Sunday.
Gaetz believes the electoral mistakes as far as policy came in the “repeal and replace tactic.” He continues to criticize party leadership for appealing to special interests and laid some of the blame on former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
“Go check how much money health insurance companies gave GOP leadership and aligned committees in the months before ‘3 buckets RyanCare’ was clumsily rolled out,” Gaetz said.
Republicans lost a net 40 seats in November.
Dunn to Amazon: Come on down
Last week came the shocking news that Amazon will not be placing a second headquarters in Queens, New York after sustained opposition from local politicians. The locals balked at the tax breaks offered to the e-commerce giant.
If Dunn has his way, New York’s loss would be the Panhandle’s gain. The two-term Republican from Panama City has suggested Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos consider Dunn’s hometown, as well as Tallahassee, as alternative sites for the new hub.
“I believe that you would find competitively priced real estate located in close proximity to major airports, railroad lines, interstates, or deep water ports like the Port of Panama City an excellent choice for HQ2,” Dunn wrote in a letter to Bezos.
“Contrary to our counterparts in Queens, elected officials in the Florida Panhandle understand that your investment would drive our community forward, and economic opportunity helps those we represent to lead more fulfilling lives,” Dunn added.
Amazon’s second headquarters would bring 25,000 jobs to the city or region that is selected. Tallahassee participated in the 2017 sweepstakes to land Amazon but joined a long list of cities and communities coming up short.
After winning contentious primaries during his first two campaigns, Democratic Rep. Al Lawson has another intraparty challenger in 2020. Last week, Jacksonville pharmacist Albert Chester announced he would take on the two-term lawmaker from Tallahassee.
Lawson is no stranger to primaries. He has previously defeated scandal-plagued Corrine Brown in 2016 and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in 2018.
Lawson’s previous opponents won Duval County, but Lawson swamped them throughout the rest of Congressional District 5 that stretches westward through Tallahassee and Gadsden County. Chester does have some Tallahassee roots as a graduate of Lawson’s alma mater, Florida A&M University.
“My hope is to extend this reach down I-10,” Chester said in a statement, and in doing so vowed to do what hasn’t been done before.
Lawson has shown he is not an uncompromising Democrat. Recently he endorsed Republican Mayor Lenny Curry for re-election, which annoyed local democrats backing Republican City Councilwoman Anna Brosche for Mayor.
Chester estimates that he can run competitively with “$250 — $300,000,” which would be a solid accomplishment. Still, Alvin Brown raised more than that and fell flat in Baker County and points west.
Substandard military housing targeted
The problems confronting both active duty military personnel and veterans continue to arise. This time, housing for members of the Armed Forces and their families are shown to be substandard on several bases, including a major military facility in Florida.
That has raised the ire of Buchanan and Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis. They have filed inquiries surrounding a company responsible for housing for families stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
“Our soldiers and their families living on military bases should not be subjected to squalid conditions and health hazards like mold and lead,” Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican, said in a statement.
The call for an investigation came after The Washington Post published a story documenting numerous problems at several military installations. The Tampa Bay Times featured personal stories of enlisted personnel and their families enduring unsatisfactory conditions.
“Active duty personnel, they are going overseas to protect us,” Bilirakis, a Tarpon Springs Republican said. “They shouldn’t have to worry about their families getting sick.”
Local relief from Trump travel costs
Since Trump was elected, the part-time Palm Beach resident has visited his Mar-a-Lago mansion. Local officials and Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel have consistently pointed out the costs of hosting the President and called for reimbursements of the local costs involved for security and other needs.
For example, when Trump is at Mar-a-Lago, the Lantana airport is totally shut down, affecting airport employees and businesses within the facility. Frankel was pleased to announce some relief for those involved.
She revealed a $3.5 million package that was included in last week’s government funding bill to ease the impact. Funding affects 25 business and 250 employees.
“Local businesses and aviators at Lantana Airport have been unfairly impacted by Mr. Trump’s frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago,” Frankel said. “They will now have an opportunity to receive financial relief.”
According to NBC News, Trump has spent 81 days at Mar-a-Lago since taking office.
GOP sour on Mucarsel-Powell Venezuela bill
Though he appears to be trying to wait out the critics, Venezuelan President Maduro faces worldwide opposition and a concerted effort from the Trump White House and Congress to pressure him to leave (See Trump above). Several bills have gained support bipartisan support, but one from Mucarsel-Powell has yet to gain any support from Republicans.
She filed the Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019, which would require the Trump administration to a long-term humanitarian aid strategy and set aside $150 million for the effort. The bill has 12 Democratic co-sponsors, including 7 from among delegation Democrats, but no Republicans.
Republicans have owned this issue, but two other Venezuela-sponsored by South Florida Democrats Shalala and Debbie Wasserman Schultz have at least earned the support of Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Mucarsel-Powell’s bill during the last Congress.
“It mirrors the same bill that [Rep. Eliot Engel] filed last year, except it has the humanitarian aid funding,” Mucarsel-Powell told the Miami Herald. “Our office worked closely with USAID and the State Department to get to that figure. I have met with Mario Diaz-Balart to discuss the bill. I’m hoping that if he really does think that Venezuela really does need the aid, he should support that bill as well.”
Ballard tied to Nigerian controversy
Americans are used to hearing stories of election fraud and dirty tricks, but fraudulent elections are more pronounced in other countries. One of the countries in the spotlight is Nigeria, where lobbyist Brian Ballard is involved with one of the country’s major political parties.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s main opposition group, signed Ballard Partners to a $1.1 million consulting contract last month. A letter purported to be from Ballard, spoke of a poll that predicted his client Atiku Abubakar had little chance to win.
That letter is now claimed to be a fraud by the PDP and Ballard himself.
“My signature has been forged,” Ballard said in a statement. “Ballard Partners has not conducted any survey research on behalf of the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria. The entire contents of the letter are false, and no individual employed by Ballard Partners has been involved in any of the actions cited in this phony letter.”
The election was scheduled for Saturday, but a shocking delay of one week was ordered by the independent National Electoral Commission. The commission blamed “logistical problems.”
On this day in the headlines
Feb. 19, 1988 — Struggling to be heard over angry critics, President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy team defended the administration’s threat to bomb Iraq into compliance with U.N. weapons edicts. “There are some things worth fighting for,” National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said.
The administration was trying to make the case that an attack could be necessary with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright saying Saddam Hussein must provide “a true, not a phony solution,” to Iraq’s reported possession of weapons of mass destruction. Protesters at the Ohio State University venue shouted “one, two, three, four, we don’t want your racist war.”
Feb. 19, 2016 — Presidential candidate Trump and Pope Francis exchanged long-distance criticisms on the issue of immigration after the pontiff challenged Trump’s Christianity. In response to a question about Trump’s immigration views, the pope said, “A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Trump, as has been his custom, was quick to strongly respond, saying “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.” Trump also suggested the Mexican government had manipulated the pope and went on to call himself “a good Christian.”