Madness beyond March
March Madness, in the form of college basketball, swept the country over the weekend. At the same time, another March Madness, by way of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, also swept the country.
Reaction to the report’s delivery to Attorney General William Barr, and reports that President Donald Trump was cleared on collusion accusations, was swift. While both sides spoke about transparency, most delegation Democrats weighed in and were of like mind in demanding the report’s full release.
“Learn from history,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa. “Don’t let Trump stonewall or hide details. All Americans deserve to see full #MuellerReport! I will be fighting to make sure that happens.”
Rep. Ross Spano, a Dover Republican, described the Mueller investigation as an “inquisition,” but also called on the Justice Department to “promptly make the full version of the report available to Congress and the American People for their own review.”
Many of those commenting pointed to a recent House resolution calling for public release of the report. That measure passed the House by a 420-0 vote but was blocked in the Senate by Judiciary Chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. A second attempt was blocked Monday by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
On Sunday morning, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler took it a step further, promising to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, to get the full report.
“We know there was collusion. Why there’s been no indictments we don’t know,” Nadler said on CNN, pointing to the President’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort meeting with Russians during Trump’s presidential campaign.
By Sunday afternoon, the statement became inoperative when Barr provided a four-page summary of Mueller’s findings to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee. According to the summary, Mueller found that neither Trump nor anyone in his campaign engaged in collusion.
Mueller indicated he lacked enough evidence to bring a charge of obstruction of justice, thereby leaving the decision to Barr. In the summary, Barr informed that his office, in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, will not bring charges on obstruction.
Those demanding the full report’s release subsequently intensified their call. Almost immediately, Nadler said he would call Barr to appear before his committee.
The summary set the stage for not releasing the entire report saying, “it is apparent that the report contains material that is or could be subject” to statutes and rules prohibiting disclosure of grand jury proceedings.
Ironically, Trump was making the least noise throughout the weekend. His Twitter account was silent from Friday until Sunday when he wished everyone “a great day” and another that said, “Make America Great Again.”
While the basketball tournament known as March Madness will finish in two weeks, the next phase of the madness on Capitol Hill will just be getting warmed up.
Rubio blasts reversal
Late last week, the Treasury Department intended to impose new sanctions on the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un. Even before they were made public, Trump tweeted he was reversing the sanctions, something that Rubio said was handled badly.
“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large-scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” the President said. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”
Rubio was asked on NBC’s Meet the Press about Trump’s unusual method of rebuking one of his Cabinet agencies.
“Frankly, look, I think people around the world would look at it and say from now on when they hear about sanctions, they’re going to ask for a double confirmation from the White House,” the two-term Republican said. “So, look, I wish it hadn’t happened that way, and it shouldn’t have happened that way.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, “President Donald Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”
While praising Trump for trying to get North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons, he believes the effort will not produce the result the U.S. would like.
“I would love for Kim Jong Un to give up his weapons and everything else,” Rubio said. “And I don’t criticize the president for trying. I just never believed he would. I don’t believe he ever will.”
When someone is affected by damage from a natural disaster, relief cannot come soon enough. For those in the Florida Panhandle affected by Hurricane Michael, or those impacted by Hurricane Irma, it seems to be taking an eternity.
Sen. Rick Scott agrees with them. During an interview aired in Panama City, the former Governor who oversaw the emergency response now thinks the federal relief response is running far too slow. When asked if it took as long as it has for other storms, Scott did not hesitate.
“No, it didn’t,” he said. I don’t think it did and so we’ve got to keep pushing to get this done as quickly as we can. Our state, especially the last two years, has been impacted by Irma and Michael and so there’s a lot of families that are hurting.”
Help is finally coming in spurts. During the past few days, more than $9 million has come in for devastated areas in Mexico Beach and Panama City.
U.S. & Israel
During the last two weeks, U.S.-Israel relations and the re-insertion of anti-Semitism into Capitol Hill politics have divided not only the two parties but elicited strong feelings among Democrats. The stakes get higher by the end of last week with two significant events.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) began their annual gathering Sunday, but Democratic presidential candidates were urged to boycott the event by the liberal activist group MoveOn. It is not clear whether any intended to take part, but candidates often attend during election years.
Presidential candidates may be staying away, but leaders from both parties and several members of Congress were on the list of speakers. Among those included Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto, along with Republican Rep. Michael Waltz.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington this week to meet with Trump and was scheduled to speak at AIPAC. Following a rocket attack in Israel, he canceled the AIPAC appearance and met with Trump before heading back to Israel.
Trump added to the agenda by making a grand policy proclamation over the weekend and made it official during the meeting between the two leaders.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” he tweeted.”
The return of the Golan has been a consistent demand of any Middle East peace talks. Israel captured much of the Golan during the six-day war in 1967 and officially claimed the area was under their jurisdiction in 1981.
Gaetz goes green
The Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey last month, generated a blizzard of media attention. In response, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach is writing a new resolution designed to counter the extreme portions of the Green New Deal, while recognizing a need to address climate change.
“Climate change is real. Humans contribute,” Gaetz tweeted recently.
The ‘Green Real Deal’ resolution acknowledges climate change as a national security threat and encourages the government to promote original ideas for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. However, it does not target any future carbon cuts and calls on keeping an open mind to energy production of all types.
It would be the most detailed response by the Republicans who think the Green New Deal would invite big government solutions and an expansion on public spending. However, many GOP members are acknowledging the reality of climate change and are looking for alternatives.
Gaetz is a member of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, co-chaired by Deutch and Naples Republican Francis Rooney.
Iran’s practice of taking American hostages could soon be costly for the families of the leaders of the rogue regime. Waltz is among other key members of Congress pushing to punish Iran for their actions by revoking visas for relatives of regime officials.
This would affect those attending college or working and living in the country.
“[There] are a lot of regime officials who have students here who are enjoying the benefits of our education system who are here on visas, and we need to take a hard look at upping the costs,” Waltz said. “My concern, from a policy perspective, is right now there is very little downside to taking the hostages, and they barely keep them alive.”
This push comes as tensions rise on Capitol Hill against the Trump administration’s decision to grant Iraq a significant reprieve on Iran sanctions. This allowed Baghdad to renew a 90-day waiver to continue buying electricity from Tehran.
The effort also includes Deutch, Deutch who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, Africa and International Terrorism. He says revoking visas is can be a useful tool in exacting a price for the hostage-taking.
One of his constituents is Robert Levinson, who was taken by the Iranians 12 years ago and has spent the most time in captivity than any other American.
“We are trying to make life difficult for people who are responsible for the kidnapping of Americans — and certainly [revoking] visas are one way to do it,” Deutch said. “We’re literally looking at everything we can possibly do to help drive home that point and increase pressure.”
Murphy brackets UCF
As March Madness prepares to enter its second week, millions of brackets began to take hits from a handful of upsets. Few were exempt from falling favorites.
POLITICO runs a friendly competition called the Playbook Pool Bracket Challenge. On one side are enthusiasts who wish to weigh in, while on the other side are elected officials or staff, Playbook reporters, administration officials, former members and other “VIPs.”
Here’s my bracket for @politico’s NCAA basketball #PlaybookPool 🏀. So far in first place because I chose @UCF_MBB to go all the way. C’mon Knights, my bracket depends on you! pic.twitter.com/aUielktTsf
— Rep. Stephanie Murphy (@RepStephMurphy) March 23, 2019
After Saturday’s round, Murphy had the highest score among members of Congress. She tweeted the good news Sunday morning, but said her ultimate success depended on how far the University of Central Florida progressed.
Murphy had the Knights winning the tournament and had the Florida Gators reaching the Final Four. After Florida’s loss to Michigan Saturday and Duke’s narrow escape from UCF Sunday, Murphy’s position in the standings and her overall chances took a big hit as she fell behind Massachusetts Democrat Joe Kennedy III.
The overall leader after Sunday’s games was Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, who would have crashed himself had UCF made a last-second shot Sunday. There were other notable Floridians participated along with Murphy.
But If only Aubrey Dawkins’ tip would have gone in for UCF …
Soto’s office recognized
According to a foundation committed to enhancing the effectiveness of Congress, the office of Rep. Soto has one of the best, if not the best, work environments. The Congressional Management Foundation has named Soto’s office as a finalist for a Democracy Award in the area “Life in Congress” Workplace Environment.
“As a finalist in “Life in Congress”- Workplace Environment, Rep. Soto’s office is one of the best in Congress,” said Bradford Fitch, President and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation. “This designation demonstrates that Rep. Soto has made a significant commitment to being the best public servant for his constituents in Florida. Rep. Soto and his staff are to be congratulated for not only being a model for colleagues in Congress, but for helping to restore trust and faith that our democratic institutions can work,” he said.
#TeamSoto made the #FinalFour for “Life in Congress” Workplace Environment Award for our efforts in promoting performance management and professional development. Together we succeed! 🇺🇸🏆#DemocracyAwards https://t.co/K17KNvFFqB pic.twitter.com/G6fEOF1kPA
— US Rep. Darren Soto (@RepDarrenSoto) March 19, 2019
The foundation named four nominees in three categories, either a House or Senate office, for consideration. The other two are Constituent Service and Transparency Accountability, and Innovation.
“Our public trust extends to being productive, transparent and accountable to the public while balancing staff quality of life and professionalism,” Soto said in a news release. “The synergy of these elements makes for an amazing effective office.”
A committee mainly composed of former members of Congress and former congressional staffers will select one winner from each party (one Democrat and one Republican) for each category.
The office of Sen. Rubio was named a finalist in the area of Constituent Service. Winners will be announced in May, and a ceremony to honor finalists and winners will be in June.
As AIPAC was discussing issues involving the U.S. and Israel, a Florida Republican was introducing legislation to go after those who support terrorist groups in the Middle East. Rep. Brian Mast joined with a fellow Republican and two Democrats to file the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act.”
The legislation “imposes sanctions on foreign persons, agencies and governments that assist Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or their affiliates.” Joining the Palm City Republican was his GOP colleague Michael McCaul of Texas along with Democrats Eliot Engel of New York and Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.
Engel is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee while McCaul is the top Republican.
“Hamas preaches destruction to Israel and death to the values we hold dear in the United States,” Mast said in a joint release. “The United States must not tolerate anybody who provides support to these radical Islamic terrorists.”
Free speech oxymoron
Free speech on campus is becoming a rallying cry for conservatives. Trump signed an executive order requiring free speech at universities that receive federal funds, while Rep. Francis Rooney filed a resolution to end “free speech zones.”
Rooney’s resolution would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to allow political expression in outdoor areas. The Naples Republican calls the “free speech zones,” practiced on some campuses “an oxymoron.”
“Many colleges and universities use dangerous and insidious methods to suppress free speech,” Rooney said in announcing the bill. “An absolute truth, a right guaranteed under the Constitution, should not become a negotiable, transient issue of policy.”
The language of Rooney’s bill mirrored a Florida statute passed and signed into last year.
Wilson jabs Kelly, again
Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is on to a new career as a public speaker, but the launch may have suffered a hiccup, or perhaps it was intentional. A promotional video featuring Kelly included a portion where he misstated the words of Rep. Frederica Wilson during a federal building dedication.
That did not escape the attention of Wilson, who jabbed Kelly for making those remarks part of the launch of his new gig.
“It is astounding that after nearly two years of mentions in the media highlighting his deceit and the cloud under which he ended his tenure as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, that he would use this as an example of one of his finest moments,” Wilson said in a statement. “There’s no denying the incident brought General Kelly lots of fame but has he no shame?”
In a recent interview, Kelly said his time in the White House was the “least enjoyable job” he had ever had and was quoted as saying the country did not need a border wall “from sea to shining sea.” But Wilson’s anger over that one day is as fresh as it was then.
“If his actions weren’t so deplorable I might feel sorry for him because despite his outward bravado, deep inside he knows the truth,” Wilson continued. “When General Kelly looks in the mirror, even he can see the four stars he worked so hard to earn are forever tarnished as a result of his inexplicable decision Oct. 19, 2017, to lie about me and lie to the American people.”
Maduro sanctions praised
Following the arrest of a senior aide to U.S.-recognized Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó, the Trump administration took quick action by placing sanctions on the country’s banking sector. While the sanctions against the regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro are tough, Trump said the U.S. had not done the “tough sanctions yet.”
Floridians that included Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart praised the sanctions as something well deserved.
“The Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Banco de Desarrollo Economico y Social de #Venezuela (#BANDES) today,” the Miami Republican tweeted. “The Maduro regime’s plundering, corruption, human rights abuses, and shameful arrest of Guaido’s aide have consequences.”
Late last week, the State Department accused a Venezuelan judge, two prosecutors and two intelligence officials of being responsible for the predawn detention of Guaidó’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero.
In another sign of impending trouble, Russian planes have landed in Caracas carrying, among other things, Russian troops.
ACA turns 9
On March 23, 2010, then-President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. Democrats from across the country marked the ninth with statements on the impact the law had on their constituents and Americans across the country.
“The law was instrumental in “providing critical protections for 7,810,300 Floridians w pre-existing conditions & millions more across the U.S. We must protect the ACA & make quality health care more affordable for every American!” said Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach.
In a tweet, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami said “Millions of Floridians gained access to health care and were protected under the law. I’m proud to continue this fight to expand access to every American!”
Recent polling shows 51 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat approve of the ACA (or “Obamacare”) while 37 percent strongly or somewhat disapprove. Republicans flipped the House in 2012 thanks in large part to the unpopularity of the law at the time.
“Today is the ninth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act! Proud to support a law that provides millions with affordable, comprehensive health care. #ACAanniversary,” tweeted Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables, a former Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
On this day
March 26, 1996 — David Hale, a key witness in the Whitewater trial of three former associates of President Bill Clinton, was sentenced to 28 months in prison and ordered to repay the government $2.04 million. Hale left the courthouse smiling and said he would continue to cooperate with Special Counsel Kenneth Starr.
“Mr. Hale has been not just useful, but highly useful to the government,” Starr said afterward. Hale pleaded guilty to lying to the Small Business Administration to obtain millions in matching funds he then used to make loans to enrich himself and his friends.
March 26, 2007 — The Republican presidential candidates are giving President George W. Bush the cold shoulder. As one candidate after another spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Bush was not there and was hardly mentioned.
The candidates’ distance from Bush reflects the political reality they are trying to replace a term-limited president where two-thirds of the public believes he is taking the country in the wrong direction. Bush is also identified with the war in Iraq, which is becoming increasingly unpopular.