It was a routine amendment proposed by minority House Republicans to the first gun control bill set to pass for the first time in two decades. When 26 Democrats voted to join with the GOP to require notification of ICE when an immigrant in the country illegally fails a background check while attempting to purchase a firearm, the fireworks began.
The 26, which included Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, received a scolding from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while reports indicate first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) threatened them with primary opponents.
“Vote ‘no.’ Just vote ‘no,’ because the fact is a vote ‘yes’ is to give leverage to the other side, to surrender the leverage on the floor of the House,” Pelosi told the Democratic caucus behind closed doors. “We’re either a team, or we’re not, and we have to make that decision,” she added.
Ocasio Cortez went further saying future occurrences put the moderates at risk for facing primary challengers. She later denied threatening the lawmakers but mocked the notion they are moderates.
Murphy defended her vote, as well as those of the other 25.
“It’s this class of members that got elected that are the reason we have the majority,” said Murphy, a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition. “Many of them come from these [moderate] districts, and their promise to their constituents was that they were going to put people over politics.”
Murphy and Crist are the only two Florida members of the growing group of Blue Dogs, which exists to provide moderation and work with Republicans when there is common ground. The reaction to the vote and the aftermath shows this is a big deal in the short term and the long-term tolerance for the goals and votes of moderates.
It provides a pivotal moment on whether the Democratic majority desires to find common ground with the minority. The amendment tactic used by Republicans, a “motion to recommit” was also used by Democrats when they were in the minority, but some are threatening to remove it
While Pelosi seeks to herd the cats, her leadership team wants to loosen the leash. Both Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina wish to allow members to vote their conscience.
“I vote my district,” said Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, who was among the 26. Lamb is a moderate who won a special election in 2018 for a seat held by Republicans for nearly two decades.
While Ocasio Cortez, or anyone, would have difficulty finding a serious contender to threaten Murphy or Crist, the fact that bipartisanship is under siege is not a good sign for 2020. Several among the 26 are freshmen who flipped GOP districts in November, supporting Murphy’s contention.
Going forward, observers will join with Pelosi and Ocasio Cortez to watch the voting patterns of Murphy, Crist and the rest of the Gang of 26.
Plenty of intrigue surrounds China’s efforts to dominate Southeast Asia and maintain a leading role in world affairs. Many of the U.S. efforts to contain Chinese efforts are classified in at least one area. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio wants to lift the veil of secrecy.
Rubio has joined with Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia to ask for the U.S. intelligence community to deliver an unclassified report on China’s wireless communication capabilities. Rubio serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee while Warner is the ranking Democrat.
They wrote a joint letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats urging him to publish what they know about Chinese activity in this area. The Senators are seeking a public report on China’s participation in the international standard-setting bodies (ISSBs) for fifth-generation wireless telecommunications technologies (5G).
Their goal is to expose any efforts by China to “skew international standards” toward Chinese companies.
“Currently, U.S. companies do not have access to critical information about the nature of this threat, and the degree of state-directed coordination among large Chinese telecommunication firms seeking to gain a critical edge in wireless technologies,” they wrote.
“Without adequate information, U.S. companies cannot effectively push back against this behavior, nor can the United States coordinate with our allies to deter anti-competitive practices in the ISSBs.”
The Senators further urged Coats and the Trump administration to partner with allies around the world to strengthen security standards. They proposed bipartisan legislation in January designed to counter cyber threats from China.
Scott OK with Trump emergency
As the Senate nears its decision on whether to support Trump’s declaration of emergency at the border, signs point to a looming defeat for the President. Florida’s Republican Senators appear to be on opposite sides.
Rubio has expressed general opposition to the concept but has not revealed how he will vote. On the other hand, Sen. Rick Scott is behind the President’s effort and hopes his colleagues will join him.
“I’m going to vote for border security. I’m going to vote with the president,” the first-term Republican said on the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures.”
“Everybody that’s going to vote on this ought to go down to the border like I did, talk to Border Patrol and they will tell you one, they need more people. Two, they need new technology the technology is decades old. And three, they’ve got to have barriers, so they have operational control,” Scott said.
Scott lamented the fact Congress could not come together and provide the funding.
“It’s not the right process,” said Scott, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee and Homeland Security Committee. “I mean, nobody wants this to be the process we go through,” Scott said.
No date is set for final Senate action, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged it would be before March 15. McConnell has indicated the resolution blocking the President’s declaration of emergency will pass when it does come up for a vote.
Florida’s Republican U.S. Senators are getting positive marks from voters, according to a new poll. The survey conducted by the University of North Florida’ Public Opinion Research Laboratory shows Rubio is doing better than Scott.
Rubio earned the approval of 51 percent of respondents, compared to Scott’s 43 percent. The poll shows 30 percent disapproving of Rubio’s performance with 33 percent giving Scott an unfavorable rating.
Republicans give Rubio a 71 percent approval rating as opposed to 36 percent of Democrats while Scott earned the approval of 64 percent of Republicans, but only 23 percent of Democrats. Scott received a 53 percent disapproval rating among Democrats, and 43 percent gave Rubio a thumbs-down.
While the two Republicans did reasonably well in the poll, the top issues on the minds of respondents favor Democrats. Health care, education and the environment were the three leading issues with crime and the economy lagging behind.
If Trump’s proposed Space Force becomes a reality, 76 percent of Floridians believe it should be headquartered in Florida. Only 9 percent want it someplace else; 15 percent do not know.
Following last week’s tweet by Rep. Matt Gaetz that many saw as a threat to Michael Cohen, the two-term Republican has apologized to Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Gaetz apologized in a text for intimating Cohen was having multiple affairs.
“I am writing to personally tell you I’m sorry for the tweet that I sent which many believe was threatening to you. It was never ever ever my intent to threaten you in any way.”
“While you don’t know me,” Gaetz added, “that is not who I am and how I operate. I do not wish any harm to you or your family. I was upset at what was transpiring and chose my words poorly. I will work to be better, as I know you said today you will as well. Have a good evening. — Matt.”
Cohen was gracious in accepting the apology. Reports indicated he responded fairly quickly.
“Congressman Gaetz, I cannot thank you enough for your message,” Cohen wrote back. “The tweet, sadly, has only made a bad situation worse … not only for my wife but for my children as well.
“With your permission, I would like to share your message with my wife and children. Hopefully, it will bring a little peace to their damaged life.”
Cohen concluded his response by telling Gaetz he hopes the tweet “does not cause you any harm.” Should it be necessary to help “correct it, please feel free to reach out, and I would be happy to assist.”
A reporter for the Atlantic said he overheard Gaetz on the telephone telling Trump in Hanoi, “I was happy to do it for you.” Edward-Isaac Dovere reported the conversation was about the Gaetz tweet attacking Cohen.
Gaetz adamantly maintained he was speaking with Gov. Ron DeSantis at the time and made those comments about an airport board appointment made by the Governor following a recommendation from Gaetz. DeSantis confirmed he spoke with Gaetz around that time and the congressman used those words.
Yoho on defense
In the current climate, there is bipartisan agreement the U.S. needs protection from cyber attacks from enemies around the world. To further the goal of enhancing cyber defense, Rep. Ted Yoho has refiled legislation designed to do just that.
The “Cyber Deterrence and Response Act” would set up a three-step process for the federal government to identify, discourage and respond to state-sponsored cyber attacks.
“For years, top U.S. government officials have warned of the persistent and growing threat to our national security from foreign adversaries in cyberspace,” said the Gainesville Republican. “Today we are taking steps to address these threats, strengthen our national security, and combat the state-sponsored cyber threats we face.”
Yoho, who is the leading Republican on the House Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee, has become more involved in cybersecurity within the past year. Among his initiatives was joining with California Democrat Ted Lieu to propose allowing “ethical hackers” to test the U.S. State Department’s cyber defenses with the “Hack Your State Department Act.”
The current bill has broad support from both parties in the House and a companion bipartisan bill in the Senate.
“Cyber threats affect every American and only together can we defeat this menace,” Yoho said. “I want to thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for their support of this bill.
Tougher on cop attacks
Two former Florida top cops joined in reintroducing legislation to pay a higher price for targeting law enforcement officers. Democratic Rep. Val Demings and Republican Rep. John Rutherford again introduced the Protect and Serve Act of 2019 after passing the House last year with overwhelming bipartisan support, but failing to clear the Senate.
“As a career law enforcement officer and former sheriff, I know what officers go through every day when they put on their uniform, say goodbye to their families, and go out on the streets doing the important work of protecting our communities,” said Rutherford.
Rutherford is the former Sheriff of Duval County, while Demings is the former Orlando Chief of Police.
“Law enforcement officers have a tough job, and it’s an extremely dangerous one,” said Demings in a statement. “I know, I did it for 27 years. Last year in Florida two sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed while they were at a restaurant, trying to grab a meal before going back on patrol.”
The Protect and Serve Act has been endorsed by the National Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Sergeants Benevolent Association, and Major County Sheriffs of America.
Spano blasted on guns
As Democrats deal with wayward members voting for amendments to a gun control bill, a gun safety group is focusing mostly on Republicans. The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund (Everytown) is going after five Republicans, including Ross Spano, who voted against the recently-passed background check bill, as well as the two Democrats who voted “no.”
According to Everytown, the $200,000 digital ad buy is going after members in states where that state’s Senators could possibly support similar legislation. Without mentioning names, Everytown was likely encouraged by then-Gov. Scott’s signature on gun control legislation last year following the massacre in Parkland.
“For those elected leaders who put the gun lobby ahead of the safety of their constituents, we’re sending a clear message: Do so at your own peril,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.
In 2018, Everytown spent $30 million in federal and state elections.
Buchanan keeps pledge
While the firestorm about the 26 Democrats voting for a GOP amendment to gun control legislation (see above), some Republicans crossed over to vote for the final bill.
The bill, which passed by a 240-190 vote — which included 8 Republican members, including three from Florida. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, and Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key all broke with their party and voted for enhanced background checks.
“Why is someone against someone getting a background check?” Buchanan wondered during an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “This is an easy layup in my mind. I don’t see how anybody can object to it.”
Like many votes he casts, Buchanan was criticized by those who seek no further gun laws, while pleasing those who believe action must be taken.
During the 2018 campaign, Buchanan expressed his support for expanding background checks. He backed up the words with his vote on H.R. 8, which calls for background checks on purchases over the internet or gun shows.
It also calls for checks each time the gun is sold, even if among family members. Buchanan said the bill would not solve the major problem of gun violence, but it could at least help.
“I don’t know that it would stop all of it; it probably wouldn’t,” Buchanan said. “But it probably would stop some of the violence.”
Kushner clearance questioned
Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s role, as well as his very presence, in White House operations is a concern among Democrats on Capitol Hill. With a New York Times report that Trump overrode a recommendation to the contrary and ordered Kushner be given clearance, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston wants that clearance revoked.
“Nepotism should never override national security,” she tweeted over the weekend. I’m introducing a bill to revoke the security clearance of any White House employee who lied about contacts with foreign nationals, and anyone under investigation for aiding a foreign government.”
The bill to which Wasserman Schultz referred is the White House Security Clearance Accountability Act, which would strip any White House employee of clearance if caught lying about foreign contacts on security forms. Anyone “under federal investigation for aiding a foreign government” would also prompt a revocation.
The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is reportedly looking into Trump finances and business dealings that could include Kushner. The Wasserman Schultz bill has a realistic chance of passing the House but getting through the Senate and overriding a certain veto is another thing.
Wasserman Schultz said Trump’s action may have inflicted harm on the country and a repeat performance must be prevented.
“The President continues to jeopardize our national security in service of his own personal interests,” the Weston Democrat said. “Congress must now act to create explicit laws ensuring the personal interests of a President do not overrule extremely basic national security protocols.”
Stop the purge
Democrats led by Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami have filed legislation targeting a practice that leads to purges of voter rolls. The yet unnamed bill goes after a practice known as “caging,” where a pattern of returned mail leads to a determination of ineligibility to vote in the precinct associated with the voter.
Mucarsel-Powell describes the process as those looking to purge voter rolls believe that these mailers indicate the voter no longer lives in the jurisdiction, was fraudulently registered, or their information on file is incorrect and is therefore ineligible to vote. The bill would prohibit the use of voter caging mail to disqualify voters in a federal election and limit challenges to voter eligibility.
“Ever since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder gutted the (Voting Rights Act), it’s become more important than ever to reduce barriers to voting and promote voting rights,” said Mucarsel-Powell, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“We need to prohibit voter purging simply because mail isn’t properly delivered. Voter caging prevents citizens from voting through no fault of their own, and this dishonest practice is an attempt to suppress democracy. It must be stopped.”
Joining Mucarsel-Powell in her effort are several Democratic colleagues from around the country, as well as in-state colleagues including Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables, and Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee.
“There is nothing more sacred in our democracy than the right to vote,” said Soto. “Yet, in Florida, we’ve seen concerning discriminatory practices such as voter caging, narrowing voting windows, closed polling places, and more barriers to voting that are being enacted.”
United against oil drilling
The issue of oil drilling off the coast of Florida is one that has seen the delegation stand shoulder-to-shoulder in opposition. If they had not been clear up to this point, Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples and Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa led their 25 other colleagues in a letter to make things clear.
The letter to acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt seeks confirmation of a pledge from former Secretary Ryan Zinke to exempt Florida from any new drilling. The Zinke pledge came during a press briefing last year with then-Gov. Scott at the Tallahassee airport.
“However, we remain concerned that no formal action has been taken to prohibit drilling off Florida’s coasts,” they wrote. “We urge you to take formal action to exempt drilling off Florida’s coast from the five-year plan for oil and gas lease sales.”
The Trump administration is poised to release its plan soon. Bernhardt’s appointment further heightened concerns due to his former role as a lobbyist for Delta Petroleum Corp., who sought expanded drilling.
“There is no place for offshore drilling off the coast of Florida,” Rooney said in a news release, “and I am proud to join with all of my colleagues from Florida to emphasize the importance of exempting Florida’s coasts from any offshore drilling in the five-year plan.”
The presence of all 27 delegation House members signing the letter was not lost on Castor.
“Unanimous bipartisan support is rare in Washington, but the stakes are high for #Florida, it’s economy & natural environment as the #TrumpToxicTeam moves forward on drilling off the coast,” she tweeted.
EMILY’s List sets targets
With the 2020 elections 21 months away, EMILY’s List has already announced their target list of who they believe are vulnerable Republicans. The group that pumps financial and logistical aid to female pro-abortion-rights Democrats released the names of 43 GOP incumbents they would like to see defeated.
Among those are four Republicans from Florida. In the crosshairs are Reps. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine, Ross Spano of Dover, Brian Mast of Palm City and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami.
“EMILY’s List is actively recruiting and working with potential candidates in these flippable districts,” said the organization’s president, Stephanie Schriock. “We look forward to sending even more pro-choice Democratic women to Congress next year to fight for health care, economic justice and to end corruption.”
Among the targets are 11 whose races are likely or solid Republican. Waltz defeated Nancy Soderberg by more than 12 points in 2018, while Diaz-Balart topped Mary Barzee Flores by more than 20 points.
While Diaz-Balart is the biggest reach by EMILY’s List, other Floridians won by much closer margins. Spano defeated Kristen Carlson in a controversial election by 6 points, while Mast posted a 9-point victory over Lauren Baer.
On this day in the headlines
March 5, 1985 — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who has received many death threats for writing the Supreme Court’s opinion legalizing abortion, said he was shot at through the window of his home. Blackmun said one shot was fired through his front window Feb. 28.
A source said Blackmun and his wife were both home at the time. The bullet, which police said was a 9mm slug, was found embedded in a chair. No Supreme Court Justice has ever been assassinated.
March 5, 1997 — The balanced budget amendment to the Constitution failed ratification in the Senate, falling one vote short of the 67 needed to move forward. All 55 Republicans voted in favor, joined by 11 Democrats.
Both Florida Senators voted in favor with Republican Sen. Connie Mack blaming President Bill Clinton for lobbying against the agreement. Democratic Sen. Bob Graham said, “restoring fiscal sanity must be this Congress’ primary goal.”