Military construction vs. border wall
Next week the House will vote to possibly override President Donald Trump’s veto of the resolution canceling his declaration of emergency. An override is unlikely.
Should that fail as expected, Democrats are hoping for a win in the courts, or at least slow the President down long enough so he can be defeated or politically crippled. On the other end, the Trump administration and Republicans could be making a political ploy to force Democrats to cast a difficult vote.
If Trump is permitted to proceed with using emergency and military construction funds to build the wall, Democrats (and even some Republicans), have said taking those funds will harm the country’s readiness. To combat this, the Trump administration fully intends for Congress to replace those funds.
During a recent hearing of the House Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert H. McMahon told the committee the President’s 2020 budget proposal would seek funds to replenish those that go to the wall.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the subcommittee, was incredulous.
“What you’re doing is circumventing Congress to get funding for the wall, which you couldn’t get during the conference process, and instead, coming back and trying to get us to replace the funding during the appropriations cycle,” the Weston Democrat told McMahon.
That is precisely what is happening. Wasserman Schultz accused McMahon and the administration of playing them for “chumps.”
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan promised a list of projects that might be affected by a diversion of funds. Democrats wanted the list before the vote on the resolution, but it only arrived earlier this week.
The cover sheet said no military construction project would be affected provided the defense budget “is enacted on time as requested.” In other words, Congress will need to replace the funds to prevent any loss of readiness.
A handful of Florida projects worth millions of dollars at several bases could be affected.
Sen. Rick Scott, a committee member, is entirely on board with what Trump is doing, while Sen. Marco Rubio, a nonmember, voted with Democrats on the resolution. Their Democratic colleague, ranking member Jack Reed of Rhode Island, is furious the list came late in the process.
“Now that members of Congress can see the potential impact this proposal could have on projects in their home states, I hope they will take that into consideration before the vote to override the President’s veto,” Reed said.
Wasserman-Schultz is also pitching for a veto override, but a recent social media post promised
“Congress will not backfill these funds.”
If the override fails and Trump’s action is ultimately upheld, the Democratic House, where appropriations bills begin, could be faced with a tough choice. Do they vote to withhold funding for military readiness projects or replace the funds as they vowed not to do?
If they don’t win in court, Democrats can always hope for a protracted legal process that blocks Trump long enough until he can be voted out. Seems like the best option.
Nine is enough
An idea gaining some traction among Democratic presidential candidates is expending the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices from the current level of 9. Rubio thinks that is a bad idea and shared his views and his intention to file a constitutional amendment to prevent it in an op-ed on FoxNews.com.
“Court-packing is quickly becoming a litmus test for 2020 Democratic candidates as this ugly, winner-take-all rhetoric gains prominence in progressive circles,” Rubio wrote.
He reminded readers of comments made by presidential candidates Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kamala Harris of California and progressive commentators who spoke of a “crisis of confidence” in the Supreme Court, which could necessitate drastic steps.
Rubio agreed there is a crisis of confidence by some but increasing the size of the court is not the answer. He revealed his intention to put the legislative wheels in motion that would enshrine the number of justices into the U.S. Constitution.
“To prevent the delegitimizing of the Supreme Court, I will introduce a constitutional amendment to keep the number of seats at nine. “There is nothing magical about the number nine,” he said.
“It is not inherently right just because the number of seats on the Supreme Court remains unchanged since 1869. But there is something inherently good and important about preventing the further destabilization of essential institutions.”
Scott taunts NY
While Rubio was writing on current policy matters, Scott was featured on the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal. In an op-ed, he chided states like New York for their high taxes, causing businesses and people to flee to low-tax states like Florida.
“America is a marketplace where states are competing with each other, and New York is losing,” he wrote. “Their loss is Florida’s gain — and Texas’ and South Carolina’s and Ohio’s and Indiana’s.”
He added that New Yorkers facing tough times due to high taxes “did this to yourself, and you can fix it yourself.” This was an obvious poke at Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Scott followed up the op-ed with an appearance on Fox and Friends, the favorite program of Trump. He used the mother of socialist Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an example of the current situation in New York.
“Even her mom moved (to Florida) because she said she can’t afford the taxes up here,” Scott said.
Confronting aggressive actions from countries like Russia and China is something that keeps the Pentagon and homeland security officials constantly busy. Both Rubio and Scott say the U.S. must stay vigilant even in the ice caps covering the far reaches of the Arctic Circle.
For this reason, Scott and Rubio urge the Coast Guard to have sufficient icebreakers available to compete with increased navigation capability due to some melting of ice. They wrote a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz urging readiness.
“As the world changes, new routes provide unprecedented access to once impassable waters, allowing fishermen, cruise lines, merchant ship, and navy vessels to push further into the Arctic Circle,” the Senators wrote.
“While the United States’ icebreaking capabilities have remained stagnant, Russia and China continue to advance policies and infuse resources into capitalizing the Arctic, including through the construction of additional icebreakers and intensifying economic relations across the region.”
Scott and Rubio point out the U.S. has not commissioned a new heavy icebreaker in four decades. With only one outdated vessel of this type, they believe our access to the area could be interrupted by a hostile nation with larger fleets.
“The United States can no longer afford to ignore the Arctic and must recognize the vital role icebreakers play in meeting the strategic challenges posed by near-peer competitors,” they warned.
Veep seeks deep pockets
Next week, Vice President Mike Pence will be in Northeast Florida to raise big bucks for the re-election of the Trump/Pence ticket. The event is March 28, but the time and location for the event will be revealed to those who RSVP.
Joining Pence is Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Ronna McDaniel and RNC Co-chair Tommy Hicks, Jr. Also on the invitation is Scott and Trump Victory Committee Finance Chairman Todd Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.
It will take a minimum of $2,800 to attend the event, while a photo opportunity requires a $10,000 donation. Also, a seat at a roundtable discussion with Pence goes for $35,000.
There is no word yet whether recently re-elected Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Republican Party of Florida chairman, will attend as guests.
DCCC, RNC set records
With the 2020 election cycle only three months old, Congressional Democrats are continuing their fundraising pace from the highly successful 2018 cycle that saw them flip 40 House seats. At the same time, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is continuing its dollar-raising juggernaut.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced they had set a February fundraising record with $11.6 million hauled in for the month. Not even in an election year had they been so successful.
“The fact that we just had our strongest February in the history of the DCCC shows that our momentum is only growing,” said DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos.
The latest available National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) report showed Congressional Republicans had raised $5.1 million through January with $16.2 million cash on hand and a debt of $8.6 million. The DCCC reported $6.8 million cash on hand and a debt of $15.8 million through Jan. 31.
Republican National Committee (RNC) numbers are impressive as they report a non-election year February record of $14.6 million raised, leaving them with $31.1 million cash on hand and zero debt. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) reported $6.5 million in contributions, $7.5 million cash on hand and a debt of $4.6 million.
“The overwhelming response is just another example of the strong grassroots support for President Donald Trump’s agenda and a continued desire to see the border wall finished and our border secured,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told Townhall.
Reports from Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats were not yet available.
Gaetz touts military budget
While Democrats are unhappy with the prospect of Trump using military construction funds for a border wall (see above), many Republicans are pleased with his budget proposals that would replace those funds for local bases. Among the latter is Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach.
Gaetz applauded the area of the President’s 2020 budget proposal that includes $124.8 million in Air Force Special Operations Command Military Construction for his 1st Congressional District. The funding is far from secure with Congress having the final say, but Gaetz pledged to work to have the funding included in the budget.
“President Donald Trump has once again proven his deep and abiding commitment to the United States Armed Forces, especially Northwest Florida’s military mission,” Gaetz said in a news release. “This is a tremendous victory for Florida’s 1st Congressional District, which remains America’s pre-eminent location for military training, testing and development.”
Gaetz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, touted previous successes in securing military funding that included nearly $200 million in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that included $41.9 million for military test range enhancements.
For months Florida lawmakers have called out what they describe as unfair “dumping” of fruits and vegetables from Mexican growers. Rubio and Rep. Ted Yoho were instrumental in getting the Trump administration to end a policy they claimed gave Mexican tomato growers an unfair advantage.
Growers of other fruits and vegetables are also affected by competition from Mexico, facilitated through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key and Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee are pushing the Defending Domestic Produce Production Act, which seeks to curtail the dumping during the growing season.
Buchanan met with growers this week to discuss ongoing efforts to combat the issue. They briefed reporters following the meeting.
“Today’s visit showed that Florida growers continue to be harmed by Mexico’s unfair trade practices,” said Buchanan. “I will continue to push for my bill to provide Florida farmers with the necessary tools to make the case that Mexico is selling produce at unfairly low prices and urge Congress and the Trump Administration to protect them in future trade negotiations.”
One of the biggest proponents of the bill is Republican Rep. Ross Spano of Dover, who represents a district that produces most of the state’s strawberry crop. He blames Mexican officials as well as the U.S. government for allowing the dumping to occur.
“The Mexican government, in my opinion, is violating the existing NAFTA agreement,” Spano told Noah Pransky in an article for Florida Politics. “It’s impossible for them to produce those berries at the price they’re selling them.”
In addition to Lawson, 10 bipartisan members of the delegation have signed on as co-sponsors. Rubio is sponsoring the companion bill in the Senate.
As the atmosphere in Congress continues to deteriorate, some members of the House are trying to bring people together. Republican Rep. Michael Waltz and three military veteran colleagues have announced the introduction of a new, bipartisan veterans caucus intended to serve as a model for restoring civility and trust.
Waltz, a former Special Operations officer, joined with Democratic Reps. Jimmy Panetta of California and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania along with Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska to launch the “Four Country” caucus.
The lawmakers announced the formation of the caucus in a Washington Post op-ed. They lamented the fact that military veterans make up only 18 percent of Congressional membership when it once stood at 70 percent.
“These trends are not a coincidence,” they wrote. “The caucus will provide principled military veteran members a platform to work in a nonpartisan way and create a more productive government. For Country’s vision is a less polarized Congress that works for — and is trusted by — Americans.”
Speeding energy exports
As the United States continues to become an exporter of energy, some in Congress want to speed up the process for shipping liquid natural gas (LNG). To achieve that goal Yoho has introduced legislation with Waltz signing on as the original co-sponsor.
The Small Scale LNG Access Act is legislation that will speed the approval process for natural gas exports less than or equal to 51.1 billion cubic feet per year. The current method is expensive and small projects are often not very cost effective under current conditions.
“With America’s vast natural gas reserves, JAXPORT in North Central Florida is in a position to be a valuable trading hub to meet global demand for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exports,” Yoho said in a joint news release.
“At the end of 2018, demand for LNG has seen a sixty-percent increase from what it was in 2017,” Yoho added. “We must capitalize on the growth of this energy sector.”
According to Yoho and Waltz, reducing the time and investment required for small-scale exports will benefit U.S. production, manufacturing, and construction jobs will simultaneously reducing trade deficits with the importing country. Increasing LNG exports will positively impact the economies of those receiving U.S. natural gas.
“South and Central American countries have limited alternatives to Maduro’s socialist oil for energy resources,” Waltz said. “This bill makes American liquefied natural gas accessible and cost-effective to regional allies that no longer want to rely on Venezuelan oil.”
Fun at the beach or near the water often calls for sunscreen, especially for those who burn easily. Many of those lotions contain chemicals detrimental harmful to coral reefs. In response, Reps. Francis Rooney and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell filed legislation that would prohibit the use of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate near coral reefs in the National Marine Sanctuary System.
This would include the Great Florida Reef found off the coast of the Florida Keys. Rooney launched the Defending Our National Marine Sanctuaries from Damaging Chemicals Act, with Mucarsel-Powell joining as an original co-sponsor.
“These chemicals are killing our coral reefs, which are vital to the marine ecosystem here in Florida and around the world,” Rooney said in a joint news release. “Reefs play a major role in preventing shore erosion and protect coastal wetlands. Their preservation is a key component of our tourism-based economy.”
According to statistics provided by Rooney, Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species. Also, the value of fisheries from coral reefs exceeds $100 million, and they provide goods and services worth $375 billion each year.
“Healthy coral reefs are essential to a sustainable future, but they are also incredibly fragile,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “Taking small steps, like preventing harmful chemicals from reaching coral reefs, can help ensure future generations can enjoy our beautiful ecosystems and protect tourism.
Wasserman Schultz backs Yang probe
Next week, court cases are set to begin against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and others caught up in the Palm Beach County prostitution sting after apparently declining a plea deal. Some Congressional Democrats are looking beyond Kraft and want an investigation into Li “Cindy” Yang, the owner of the massage parlor that was the center of the sting.
Ms. Yang has had interactions with Trump and some family members both at the White House and at the President’s Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach. Alleged ties to China prompted leading Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees to seek a counterintelligence investigation.
Among those strongly backing the call in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Secret Service Director Randolph Alles is Wasserman Schultz, who finds the revelations “disturbing.”
The Democrats seek an investigation into allegations of Yang selling access to the President and the White House and working on behalf of China to bring Taiwan back under Chinese control.
“If true, these allegations raise serious counterintelligence concerns,” said the letter signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Diane Feinstein and Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner.
Wasserman Schultz is concerned about Trump wittingly or unwittingly helping China through Yang.
“These revelations raise very serious, disturbing concerns,” she said last week. “If she has significant ties to the Chinese government, that makes it even more disturbing. This is a situation that is clearly unethical. It is very troubling; it raises all kinds of questions and cries out for a deeper investigation.”
Ports caucus meets
Recently the Florida Ports Caucus held their first meeting of the 116th Congress. The caucus, founded and co-chaired by Miami Lakes Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, advocates for federal policy on behalf of the state’s 15 public seaports and provides a platform to address legislative priorities and help create and sustain port-related jobs.
Excited to be hosting the first Florida Ports Caucus meeting of the new Congress! pic.twitter.com/dRwMpgax76
— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) March 12, 2019
During the meeting, members highlighted some of the achievements on behalf of Florida ports. Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami touted $293 million through the BUILD program through the Department of Transportation.
“I am proud of our bipartisan ports caucus, which is a powerful platform that helps ensure that Congress addresses Florida’s priorities,” said Wilson. “We will continue to have important conversations about ongoing projects and resource requests.”
The Florida Ports Council is grateful for the help.
“We cannot thank our Florida delegation enough for the constant support they provide to the Florida Ports Council and its member ports,” said council President Juan Kuryla. “The great work and dedication of our elected officials result in the outstanding performance of not only our deep-water ports but other Florida ports as well. This growth translates into increasing jobs and business opportunities for Florida residents,”
On this day
March 22, 2010 — The Affordable Care Act, derisively known as “Obamacare” by Republicans and thought to be dead two months ago, passed the House by a 219-212 margin. President Barack Obama watched the unusual weekend proceedings from the White House with Vice-President Joe Biden. All Republicans voted against the measure.
Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa compared the vote to the passage of Social Security and Medicare 45 years ago. Republican Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow said afterward “the vote became more important than the product itself.
March 22, 2017 — Trump warned wavering House Republicans that their jobs were on the line in next year’s elections if they failed to back a GOP bill that would overhaul former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Republicans would “pay a price at home,” if they fail to act.
All delegation Republicans, except for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, support repeal while all Democrats oppose. Democrats are relishing the conflict among Republicans with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying Republicans will “walk the plank” by passing a repeal plan that will be defeated in the Senate.
Several Northeast Florida residents are sure to attend the Trump re-elect fundraiser next week featuring Vice President Pence (see above). Someone will need to keep track of those attending and how much they are pledging.
The campaign has the right person lined up for this. Those wishing to attend are asked to contact Kris Money via firstname.lastname@example.org.