Dems struggle on Venezuela
While in Congress, former Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV was never shy about leveling criticism of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. After his 2010 election, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio became the leading troll in the Senate against Chavez and then his successor, Nicolás Maduro.
After Mack’s loss to Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, Rubio became the leading voice against Chavez and Maduro. Others from both parties would criticize Maduro on occasion, but Rubio became nearly obsessed with the socialist’s ouster.
Few would disagree that Republicans own the issue. Florida Democrats are saying all of the right things, but high-profile events such as Rubio and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart going to the Colombia-Venezuela border to demand Maduro allow blockaded humanitarian aid into the country.
At the same time, President Donald Trump visited Miami and had the same message. Democrats seeking to have a presence in the story, stood behind the Venezuelan people but demanded Trump immediately give refugees of the failing regime Temporary Protected Status.
Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables essentially told the President not to come if he wasn’t prepared to issue the order in his remarks.
Feb. 23 is reported to be a big day for Venezuela. Maduro was strongly advised to let the humanitarian aid in by that day, or some unspecified action could take place.
On the same day, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz is holding a Venezuela Community Forum in her hometown of Weston to focus on the humanitarian crisis. Joining her are fellow Democrats Shalala, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires, and Carlos Vecchio, the Chargé d’Affaires for the U.S.-recognized Venezuelan government of interim President Juan Guaidó
A dramatic event in the Southern Hemisphere would dominate national coverage but getting Vecchio before Floridians is far superior to any statement or news release.
Democrats are wise to try and stay relevant because the issue has a significant upside for Republicans. They plan to run against “socialist Democrats” in 2020 and point to socialist Venezuela, fairly or not, as Exhibit A on why Democrats and their policies must be defeated.
Russia is warning or threatening the U.S. on any involvement, putting Vladimir Putin and Trump on opposite sides of a public issue. Trump has a golden opportunity, if he wants to take it, to counter the “Russian asset” mantra Democrats have laid upon him for two years.
Right on cue, Republicans will take the next step by sending Vice President Mike Pence to Colombia early next week to demand Maduro step down. Pence will highlight the U.S. government’s “unwavering support” for Guaidó.
Rubio will most certainly be sought out for his view.
Scott: Told you so
Last week California Gov. Gavin Newsom was forced to pull the plug on a high-speed rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The cost had ballooned to nearly $77 billion, something Sen. Rick Scott said would happen when he turned away millions of dollars to build a connector between Tampa and Orlando.
“@USDOT just canceled grant funds for CA’s high-speed rail project,” Scott tweeted. “When I was Gov. I declined funds for HSR in Florida b/c it wasted taxpayer $$ and left the people of FL on the hook. Now it’s time for CA to give back the money.”
That seems to be Scott’s way of saying “told you so.”
Rubio to buck Trump?
Last week the spending bill was signed into law after clearing Congress, followed by Trump’s declaration of emergency. In the Senate, Rubio was one of only 9 Republican Senators to vote no on the bill’s passage.
With Democrats expected to bring a resolution of disapproval of the President’s executive action, speculation will turn toward whether it will pass with enough votes needed to override a promised veto from Trump. Based on his earlier comments Rubio is looked at as one of possibly 10 Senators to vote against Trump.
Republicans such as Rubio support funding the wall but have expressed concern for setting a bad precedent. Others question the wisdom of ceding too much authority to the executive branch.
“I am skeptical it will be something I can support,” Rubio has said. He said he would listen to the administration’s rationale before making a final decision but warned earlier this week of the implications for using military funds to build the wall.
“Just as a matter of policy, our military construction budget is already behind schedule compared to where we need to be for some of our facilities around this country, so I think it’s a bad idea,” he added.
A defection of 10 Senators would likely be enough to pass the resolution, but not enough to override a veto. With a two-thirds majority needed, Democrats would still be 10 votes short of an override providing all 47 of them vote in favor.
Around 50 Republicans would need to cross over to override in the House.
DCCC targets Floridians
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has posted a target list of 19 Republicans they are targeting in 2020. This week they posted a “retirement watch” list, but they have forced retirements in mind for those not leaving on their own.
In their crosshairs is freshman Rep. Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th Congressional District and veteran lawmaker and delegation co-chairman Vern Buchanan in CD 16. Both say they are not going anywhere but back to Washington.
The DCCC is apparently counting on Trump to be a drag on down-ballot candidates like Buchanan and Spano. They also believe life in the minority will hamper their effectiveness.
“Whether it’s waking up each morning to read the President’s tweets that they’ll be answering for or slowly coming to the realization that they aren’t in control anymore,” DCCC Communications Director Jared Smith said, “we expect to see a steady stream of frustrated Washington Republicans heading for the exits.”
Both have already filed for re-election and claim to be ready for the fight ahead. Buchanan won re-election by nearly 10 points last fall, while Spano prevailed by 6 points.
“Wishful thinking on (DCCC’s) part,” said Anthony Cruz, Buchanan spokesman. “Vern has already filed for re-election with the FEC and has a big agenda for the folks in our district, like protecting Social Security and Medicare, stopping red tide, protecting veterans benefits and keeping the economy strong.”
Still dogging Spano are campaign finance problems from 2018, but he is all-in for 2020.
“Rep. Spano is focused on serving the constituency of Florida’s 15th Congressional District and working for them, said Daniel Bucheli, a Spano Congressional office spokesman. “He does not plan to retire at this.”
The DCCC claims that among the 16 Republicans on the 2016 retirement watch list, 10 either retired or were defeated.
Thomas gunning for Sullivan
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas does not join his colleagues in questioning competing sides coming before the court. His originalist views come out in his opinions and dissents.
Earlier this week, Thomas offered another opinion which has the effect of a dissent filed 55 years after the fact. Thomas opined that a landmark 1964 decision in New York Times vs. Sullivan should come before the court again because it was wrongly decided.
The decision redefined libel and slander involving public officials. The court expanded the “actual malice” standard to public figures two years later in Curtis Publishing v. Butts.
Thomas maintains the Constitution did not intend for such protection when they adopted the First Amendment.
“We should not continue to reflexively apply this policy-driven approach to the Constitution,” he wrote in a decision involving imprisoned comedian Bill Cosby. “We should reconsider our jurisprudence in this area.”
The view expressed by Thomas took on broader significance with the $250 million lawsuit filed against The Washington Post by the teenager in the viral confrontation with the Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial. Lin Wood, the lawyer representing the teen, has vowed to sue countless others, including many who attacked him on social media.
A liberal Catholic organization has announced a legislative scorecard for 2018, awarding delegation Democrats with perfect scores. Republicans fared far worse.
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice rated Senators based upon their votes on eight bills and Representatives on seven bills. For example, Senators needed to vote against the prohibition of sanctuary cities as well as voting to deny confirmation to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh.
Among the 7 House bills, the NETWORK included two that involved DACA recipients. Those who voted for measures not including a pathway to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants lost their support.
The best score among Republicans was awarded to former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, while former Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Diaz-Balart earned 57s.
The group, founded 46 years ago by Catholic nuns, “works to create a society that promotes justice and the dignity of all in the shared abundance of God’s creation.” They are not involved in the arena of women’s reproductive rights.
NETWORK has gained a great deal of attention in recent elections with their “Nuns on the Bus” tour. Last fall, they traveled to the districts of vulnerable Republicans beginning in Los Angeles and concluding at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
Dunn, Wasserman Schultz tour Tyndall
The damage caused by Hurricane Michael is well-documented in the losses suffered by residents and businesses of the Panhandle. The effect on military operations was extensive, but not as well-known outside the area.
Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, represented by Dr. Neal Dunn, is home to multiple military operations, including the Tyndall Air Force Base and Naval Support Activity Panama City. Dunn joined with Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz in a tour of the damage with the goal of developing a plan for rebuilding.
Wasserman Schulz, a Weston Democrat, joined Dunn for a tour of the area, which saw 82 of 88 buildings within the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Panama City Division sustaining damage. She was there in her role as chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.
“The support of Congresswoman Wasserman Shultz is an important step in helping NSWC Panama City rebuild the Warfare Center,” said Ed Stewart (SES), NSWC PCD technical director. “Our technical capabilities are unique to Panama City. It is vital that we rebuild in order to maintain current and future warfighter readiness.”
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy has announced a series of listening sessions across Florida’s 7th Congressional District over the coming weekend. The Winter Park Democrat will interact with constituents in a town hall format.
The effort is part of a more extensive outreach program by Murphy’s office that includes office hours, coffee social events, social media outreach, and constituent surveys.
“The most fundamental responsibility of a Member of Congress is to listen to the people they represent,” Murphy said in a news release. “These events provide me with an opportunity to hear directly from my constituents, learn about their concerns and priorities, and take that feedback with me to our nation’s capital,” Murphy concluded.
Since she has taken office, Murphy has attended more than 200 events throughout the community and has also encouraged constituents to sign up for alerts on all upcoming events by visiting her website or Facebook page.
Events in Sanford and Orlando and Sanford are scheduled for Friday, while a Saturday session will be for Winter Park.
Assignment Editors: Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando will be the keynote speaker at the Sarasota Kennedy-King fundraising dinner. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. More information at firstname.lastname@example.org
Soto says speed up
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto will accompany colleagues from the Committee on Natural Resources to Puerto Rico in mid-March and be part of oversight hearings on hurricane recovery. Soto claims that the Trump administration is blocking the recovery effort following the devastation of the hurricane they experienced in 2017.
“It’s time that President Trump act and show his commitment to a real plan for recovery,” said the Kissimmee Democrat.
Soto has announced his own plan for Puerto Rican relief that includes the congressional oversight hearings into why only $2.3 billion in federal relief has reached the island since Hurricane Maria struck in 2017. It will also include federal reforms designed to accelerate both disaster recovery and long-term economic improvements.
Despite $50 billion authorized by Congress, Soto says there is much more to do.
“When you have $50 billion, most people have turned the page there,” he said. “That’s why we’re here today. They think the funding is good and everything is going to be OK, and reconstruction is happening.
“And that is exactly the opposite of what is happening right now, which is why we have to speak up, and why we have to have these hearings,” Soto said.
Also, Soto’s plan has laid out longer-term initiatives for Puerto Rico’s economic development, debt reform, and Medicaid reform.
“We’re looking at a holistic package of at least four major issues to help with for the recovery of the island. It can’t just be disaster relief,” he added.
Assignment Editors: Rep. Charlie Crist will host a panel discussion with local veterans on the impacts of Agent Orange. The event begins Saturday, Feb. 23, at 10 a.m. at the St. Pete College Seminole Campus Digitorium. Media interested in attending should contact Chloe Kessock at Chloe.Kessock@mail.house.gov.
Lake O septic woes
U.S. Rep. Greg Steube plans to bring concerns about water quality in Southwest Florida up to Washington, D.C. The Sarasota Republican held a roundtable Wednesday in Punta Gorda with experts from the region’s water management associations and conservation groups.
“Our water quality issues cannot, and should not, be solved by one person or entity and it is important that we work together to find solutions,” he said.
Steube’s district felt significant pain from water crises in 2018, from water level issues in Lake Okeechobee to toxic algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee River and red tide outbreaks on Florida’s Gulf Coast. His nine-county district includes the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary, as well as the northern shores of Lake O.
He wants solutions to problems, including assisting in septic-to-sewer transitions in rural communities. “I’m committed to working with state, local, and federal officials to mitigate the troubling water issues our state has encountered,” he said.
Mast urged not to let up
While Steube was working on the water crisis, constituents of Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City had their chance to sound off on the role of the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and Mast’s efforts to find solutions.
Mast joined with his constituents at two public forums held in Stuart this week by the Corps. The two-term Republican, who has been a vocal critic of the Corps’ policy of discharging highly polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, received a message of “don’t let up” from attendees.
He had met with constituents a week earlier to prep them for the forums. Mast urged them to demand “zero discharges” from the Corps and to lower the level of the lake during certain periods temporarily.
“We are asking in this process that we not be left out as we were before,” Mast said, “ … that human health and safety not be a subhead to flood control.”
There are divisions among those who support Mast’s overall efforts but oppose lowering the level of the lake. Some involved communities and farmers claim they would be “devastated” by that proposal.
Both forums featured overflow crowds, with the Corps. Florida commander fielding the numerous questions from attendees.
“I know there’s a lot of passion, a lot of interest in what we’re doing,” said Col. Andrew “Drew” Kelly during his opening. “We want to hear your concerns … We are listening.”
The Corps is expected to conduct six more forums shortly.
Hastings, Mast protect PUPPERS
The Veterans Affairs (VA) is again under scrutiny. Not for anything involving veterans, but for fatal experiments conducted on dogs.
While VA Inspector General Michael Missal is now investigating the practice, lawmakers have filed legislation to ensure the practice is stopped. Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings joined with Mast and Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus to submit the “Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) Act.”
Despite outrage and opposition from several members of Congress more than three months ago, the practice continued.
“For too long, the VA has gotten away with conducting these harmful — sometimes fatal — experiments on dogs,” Mast said. “These tests are abusive, waste taxpayer dollars and must be stopped.”
Hastings tweeted his satisfaction with joining the legislation and condemning the VA practice.
I’m proud to join @repdinatitus and @repbrianmast in introducing the bipartisan Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) Act to permanently end the @DeptVetAffairs’ unnecessary and often fatal dog testing.” I’m proud to join @repdinatitus and @repbrianmast in introducing the bipartisan Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) Act to permanently end the @DeptVetAffairs’ unnecessary and often fatal dog testing.”
The bill has the support the support of several groups including AMVETS, American Military Retirees Association, DisabledVeterans.org, American Humane Society and the White Coat Waste Project.
Mucarsel-Powell, Shalala tour detention facility
A Congressional delegation that included Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala toured the Homestead detention facility this week. The facility houses more than 1,500 unaccompanied undocumented children, with that number likely to swell to more than 2,300 in the coming months.
They found the facility is not operated by the federal government, but by a for-profit corporation with federal oversight. The cost is approximately $750 per day, per child, the most expensive facility in the country.
Shalala expressed concern about the children’s ability to gain an education while detained.
“Our board of education in Miami-Dade cannot, does not have responsibility for overseeing the education that’s provided in this facility,” the Coral Gables Democrat said. She would like to see nonprofits fulfill this role.
The plight of the children inside moved Mucarsel-Powell. After the tour, she gave an emotional narrative describing what she saw.
“I saw kids who have hope,” she said while controlling her emotions. “I’m sorry. I have kids who are similar ages. It’s very tough.”
The lawmakers would like to see a change in the definition of an unaccompanied child. Instead of children traveling without parents, they would like to see the standard relaxed.
“If you don’t come with a parent, but you come with an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, or a brother, you’re defined as unaccompanied,” said Shalala. “We need to get these children to families.”
One of those touring the facility, Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro, called the system put in place by the Trump administration “immoral.”
Most of the Florida delegation heard concerns from local communities last week from representatives of cities around the state. The Florida League of Cities Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) traveled to Capitol Hill as part of a biannual FAST Fly-In to interact with as many members as possible.
The Florida League of Cities Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with 23 members to advocate for key federal issues that affect municipalities. Forty municipal officials representing all regions of the state, participated in the trip, known as the FAST Fly-In, a biannual advocacy trip for members of the FAST committee.
“This was the largest FAST Fly-in group to date,” said Florida League of Cities President and Bartow Mayor Leo E. Longworth. “We really appreciate the delegation meeting with us, and we look forward to working with them this year.”
The delegation heard cities’ perspectives on critical issues including infrastructure funding, water quality, and water supply, reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program and the federal pre-emption of small cell infrastructure deployment.
They commended the delegation’s efforts to address the challenges posed by red tide and algal blooms and the need for federal, state and local communities to work together.
“We have a responsibility to work together at the local, state and federal levels to find bipartisan solutions that improve our quality of life,” said Sarasota Commissioner and FASTS Chairman Willie Shaw.
On this day in the headlines
Feb. 22, 1972 — President Richard Nixon became the first U.S. President to visit China, highlighted by a meeting at the home of Chairman Mao Zedong. The event was described as “frank and serious,” but Nixon later suggested the two countries can be friendly.
Later an elaborate, but lighthearted, banquet hosted by Premier Chou En-lai, the President and First Lady Pat Nixon feasted on Peking duck. The leaders were entertained by the People’s Liberation Army band, who later broke into a rendition of “Turkey in the Straw.” Nationalist China (Taiwan), continued to express its opposition to Nixon’s trip.
Feb. 22, 2006 — President George W. Bush faced stiff opposition from an agreement to allow a Dubai state-owned company, Dubai Ports World, to manage several major U.S. ports, including Tampa. Bush said he would veto any legislation blocking the deal supported by top Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Sen. Bill Nelson also opposed the idea, pledging to go beyond supporting legislation. The Democrat, who had been seeking a second term in November, indicated he could block the nomination of David Sanborn to head the U.S. Maritime Administration due to a “walking conflict.” Sanborn had previously led Europe and Latin American operations for Dubai Ports World.
Happy birthday (Feb. 25) to Rep. Darren Soto of Florida’s 8th Congressional District.