To the joy of many Democrats on Capitol Hill, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has resigned. By all signs, President Donald Trump is smiling as well.
In true Trump fashion, he shared the news via Twitter. For his standards, it was brief and to the point.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2019
Nielsen, who grew up in Tampa Bay and was a graduate of Tampa’s Berkeley Preparatory School, was often a target of Democrats on immigration policy. She was seemingly the face of the practice of separating children from parents illegally entering the country, a policy ultimately ended by Trump.
“It is clearer now than ever that the Trump administration’s border security and immigration policies — that she enacted and helped craft — have been an abysmal failure and have helped create the humanitarian crisis at the border,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said.
“It is truly unfortunate that Nielsen refused to take responsibility for her actions and was simply unable to lead and stand up to the president for his misguided, wall obsessed anti-immigrant agenda,” he added.
CBS Miami quoted Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables as saying “She’s implemented a policy that is immoral, unacceptable and frankly illegal under U.S. law.”
Nielsen brought skills in the area of cybersecurity to the job, leaving many to wonder the immediate future of those efforts. Her successor is well-versed in border security and immigration policy.
The President followed up his tweet announcing Nielsen’s departure with another announcing the arrival of interim Secretary Kevin McAleenan. He comes to the job after serving as Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
He is said to have support among Democrats and described as not being “an ideologue or fire-breather.” McAleenan will have a difficult task of trying to build consensus for legislative fixes within current immigration law and satisfying a President who believes DHS is not being tough enough or moving fast enough.
As Thompson noted in his statement slamming Nielsen, both parties are now using the word “crisis” to describe the current situation. In her resignation letter, Nielsen said “I hope the next Secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws” that have prevented finding a solution.”
Trump approval fell
The re-election of Trump could be in severe jeopardy if a new Morning Consult poll is accurate. His disapproval ratings are increasing in nearly all states, but the five that put him over the top now appear to be having second thoughts.
Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had seen the most slippage since his inauguration 27 months ago. Among these five nearly must-win states that Trump flipped from Democrat to Republican, Florida has shown the most significant drop.
On Jan. 20, 2017, he had a 56-34 percent approval/disapproval mark among Floridians. The latest poll shows him with a 47 percent approval, 49 percent disapproval rating.
In Ohio, he has fallen from a plus-14 percent approval rating in 2017 to a minus 6, representing a drop of 20 points. Michigan shows a 19-point drop, while Wisconsin and Pennsylvania revealed 18 and 17 point losses, respectively.
The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows the President with a 44 percent approval rating and 52.1 percent disapproval.
Rubio: Maduro’s a terrorist
Weeks after pressure began to build on Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro to step aside in favor of U.S.-backed Juan Guaidó, the socialist clings to power. He is receiving Russian and Cuban assistance, as well a roving militia of enforcers known as “colectivos.”
“The truth is the Maduro regime built up this network of colectivos as its own private security force to protect its grip on power and violently resist any effort to dislodge it from power,” said Sen. Marco Rubio.
The U.S. is reportedly keeping all options open, including military action. At a minimum, Rubio is calling for designating the Maduro regime and the colectivos as a foreign terrorist organization.
In a letter to Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, Rubio says the actions of Maduro and the colectivos “continues to destabilize the region and threaten U.S. national security.” He says the time for action is now.
“I urge the Executive Branch to impose sanctions against the Maduro regime for its material support of terrorism,” he wrote, and “to designate the regime, as well as the estimated hundreds of armed irregular militia groups (colectivos armados) that it controls, as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs); and to designate the Maduro regime as a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO).”
Rubio highlighted the Maduro regime’s links to U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), as well as its support of Hezbollah sympathizers.
Scott prods FAA
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the causes of two recent disasters involving the Boeing 737 Max aircraft that killed 350 people. The U.S. and other countries grounded the plane until investigations are complete.
On the day Boeing announced it would reduce production of the plan, Sen. Rick Scott called on the FAA to speed up the review and provide an update. Scott’s concern, shared by Florida officials, is the safety of those traveling into and out of Florida.
Last year alone, more than 126 million visitors traveled to Florida, with nearly 94 million of those visitors coming through one of our 18 airports,” Scott said in a letter to FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell. “The safety and security of these visitors and the millions of Florida families need to be a top priority for all of us.”
Investigators have indicated software unique to the 737 Max could be a factor in the crashes. Scott has asked for a meeting with Elwell to hear what he has learned so far and be briefed on the future for “highly automated equipment and systems.”
Scott serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Health plan coming soon
Recently Trump indicated he might be slowing down the effort to replace “Obamacare” with a Republican alternative again. The President said a vote on the issue would not come until after the 2020 election.
Instead, he has huddled with administration officials, asking them for plans that he could put out before voters going into the 2020 elections. Mulvaney indicated the country could see a plan “shortly.”
Action could come more quickly if Trump gets his way and the Supreme Court declares “Obamacare” unconstitutional. The President threw the weight of the federal government behind a Texas lawsuit before the court that will determine the fate of the existing health insurance system.
Democrats are stepping up their attacks on the Trump health care record.
Shalala, a former Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), said via Twitter:
Today, we passed a resolution condemning Trump’s latest attacks on healthcare and protections for those with pre-existing conditions. We need to come together and expand access, not strip the most vulnerable of their coverage by invalidating the Affordable Care Act.
— Rep. Donna E. Shalala (@RepShalala) April 3, 2019
Even if Trump and current HHS Secretary Alex Azar come up with something to present, the same difficulties in Congress still exist as they did during the last attempt. Despite majorities in both chambers in the last Congress, Republicans were not able to pass a repeal and replace bill.
More opportunity zones
Opportunity zones were created in the 2017 tax bill that provided tax breaks for those investing in lower income areas. Both Rubio and Scott believe Enterprise Zones should be expanded to include regions devastated by natural disasters such as hurricanes.
They have teamed to filed the Disaster Opportunity Zones Act, which would allow Governors to nominate 25 areas damaged by hurricanes, wildfires, floods or other disasters for investments under the program. Those investors would receive tax breaks on their donations.
“Local communities devastated by recent natural disasters, like Hurricane Michael, are still struggling to recover from the catastrophic loss of jobs and business,” Rubio stated in a news release issued by his office. “The Disaster Opportunity Zones Act would help stimulate local economies and encourage private investment from job creators by allowing many of these areas to become opportunity zones.”
With hurricanes touching all portions of the state over the past two years, paring it down to 25 could prove difficult, but those hardest hit areas like the Panhandle and South Florida would be on any list.
“The Disaster Opportunity Zones Act will make a real and lasting difference for our communities impacted by Hurricane Michael,” Scott stated in the release. “I’m proud to sponsor this bill to bring new capital investment and more jobs to Florida’s Panhandle as we continue to recover and rebuild following Hurricane Michael.
Tax return politics
The issue of Trump’s tax returns was a big part of the weekend discussions, especially on the Sunday talk shows. The range of responses was the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal will get the returns, he might get them, or “never” see them.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney called Neal’s move “a political stunt” on Fox News Sunday. When asked if the committee would ever see the returns, Mulvaney responded “Oh no, never. Nor should they.”
Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, was a little less certain, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Congress may request an individual’s tax return, “but only for a legitimate legislative purpose.” Sekulow said the request amounts to using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a “political weapon.”
Neal and Democrats are pointing to a statute that allows the committee chairman to ask for the information and the Secretary of the Treasury, which oversees the IRS, shall furnish it. Florida’s two members on the committee, Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, have stayed out of the public eye on the issue.
Trump’s legal team wrote to the Treasury Department’s general counsel urging the tax returns not be released at least until a legal opinion is received from the Justice Department. Neal provided a deadline of April 10 for the returns.
Leave cannabis to states
An obstacle to the more widespread approval of medical marijuana is federal law, but that could change if a new bill becomes law. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach is joining an effort to give authority over medical cannabis to the states.
Gaetz, a leading voice among conservatives on the issue, announced the introduction of the Strengthening the 10th Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. This is bipartisan and bicameral legislation that allows each state to set their own marijuana laws and policies.
Florida and over 30 other states have legalized either medical or recreational cannabis, but federal law still classifies it as a Schedule 1 narcotic in the same class as heroin, Ecstasy and LSD.
“We believe this Committee and this Congress must act to clarify the rights and responsibilities, relative to cannabis, of individuals, physicians, businesses, medical patients and law enforcement officials,” Gaetz said in a letter to Chairman of the House Committee Jerrold Nadler.
The conflict between federal and state laws has caused a variety of problems, including the inability of cannabis businesses to access the banking system. Gaetz and bill supporters contend that by leaving cannabis laws to each state, a great number of those legal issues would be resolved.
Deal they can’t refuse
In recent months, stories of negotiations involving the U.S., Afghanistan and the Taliban have increased, pointing to the possibility of a previously inconceivable deal for the withdrawal of American forces. This is still much to be worked out, but a narrowing of differences has occurred.
Rep. Michael Waltz has joined with three other House Republicans to introduce a bill that would require the Taliban to yield on nearly all of its remaining positions and support U.S. counterterrorism efforts before America troops are withdrawn.
According to the bill, the Taliban would have to adhere to ending any associations with al-Qaida, support the Afghan constitution and protect the rights of women and girls. Also, they must agree to forgo incoming foreign funds and military support from non-Afghan organizations.
“I’ve fought in Afghanistan and know the destabilizing threat the Taliban continues to pose there,” Waltz stated in a news release. “With our Afghan allies not yet prepared to defend themselves and over half of the world’s terrorist organizations currently residing on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the stakes are simply too high to take the Taliban at their word.”
Waltz is an Army Veteran of the war in Afghanistan and is still a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. Whether this bill picks up any bipartisan traction is primarily up to the support of the troops. Waltz has become a key and active voice in representing a small but growing number of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans in Congress.
Trump announced in February that the administration is negotiating with the Taliban among others to end what is now America’s longest war. There are currently about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
Waltz’s co-sponsors include Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, and New York Rep. Elise Stefanik.
Crist, Jolly praise Pelosi
Later this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will mark 100 days since she took the gavel again. Those interviewed for an NBC News piece give her high marks, including the two who squared off against each other for the District 13 seat in 2016.
“I think she’s extraordinary,” said Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist. He described her leadership as “incredibly smart and very wise.”
NBC also spoke with David Jolly, the former Republican whom Crist defeated in the redrawn district. Jolly, now an MSNBC political commentator, describes Pelosi performance as “masterful” and praised her for her handling of the impeachment issue, but also said she should open an impeachment investigation.
The story, written more than two weeks after delivery of the Mueller report, indicated Jolly believes impeachment “may not require a public buy-in.” Former New York Rep. Joe Crowley, who famously lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a primary disagreed, saying Pelosi should continue to proceed cautiously.
“ … But unless the evidence rises to what would be deemed as an impeachable offense and go into the support of Republicans, she knows that [launching proceedings] is futile because she needs to have Republican support, certainly in the Senate, to make that happen,” Crowley said.
A man accused of threatening the lives of Republican Rep. Brian Mast’s children remains free after a jury failed to reach a verdict. The resulting mistrial means Laurence Key could avoid punishment if federal prosecutors in South Florida decided not to retry him.
The 68-year-old Key reportedly called Mast’s office upset over the family separation policy at the border. An intern said Key threatened Mast’s children during the call.
“I’m going to find the congressman’s kids and kill them,” Key is accused of telling the intern. “If you’re going to separate kids at the border, I’m going to kill his kids. Don’t try to find me because you won’t.”
After a brief FBI investigation, Key was arrested and charged. He had been active in Martin County Democratic politics and had called Mast’s office 478 times previously.
Iran’s terrorist military
While Rubio has asked the Trump administration to designate the Venezuelan regime as a terrorist organization (see Maduro above), another U.S. foe was given that label. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was officially named a foreign terrorist organization.
In making the move, the State Department accused The Revolutionary Guard of both participating and financing terrorist activities. Iran indicated they would respond, most likely designating a part of the U.S. armed forces as a terrorist organization.
Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart tweeted:
I am proud of @POTUS’ decision to designate #IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization #FTO. This unprecedented step is yet another example of the administration’s commitment to our national security, and a clear indicator that the US does not negotiate with #terrorists.
— Mario Diaz-Balart (@MarioDB) April 8, 2019
The move is intended to dissuade other nations and entities from doing business with the IRGC. With the U.S. designation, anyone who deals with The Revolutionary Guard could run the risk of facing criminal charges, such as aiding or supporting a terrorist group.
Mucarsel-Powell gets boost
On the day Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell discovered she had a 2020 opponent, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) revealed they were about to run digital ads on her behalf. Those ads, like most of her 2016 campaign, focus on health care.
With the announcement the Trump administration was supporting a Supreme Court case that might find “Obamacare” unconstitutional, Democrats have gone back to an issue that won big for them in 2018. Despite Trump saying the GOP will be the “party of health care,” Republicans have yet to find a compelling message or strategy.
“Republican attacks on our health care make us sick,” reads the ad. “That’s why Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is fighting back.”
Earlier, restaurant owner Irina Vilariño announced she would run against the incumbent next fall. The first term Democrat defeated moderate Republican Carlos Curbelo in 2018.
As Mucarsel-Powell runs for re-election for the first time, the DCCC had already named her as a 2019-2020 Frontline member. The 44 freshmen are earning the support of the organization as one step toward protecting their majority next year.
The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee (NRCC) has put Mucarsel-Powell on their target list.
Three delegation Democrats were denied access to the Homestead refugee facility almost 10 months after others were turned away. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Mucarsel-Powell, and Shalala was told they needed to provide a two-week notice before a visit.
The Miami Herald laid it squarely on the President, headlining the rejection “Trump blocks three Florida Congresswomen …” While he was not standing in the doorway, his Department of Health and Human Services decided to prevent the South Florida Democrats from gaining access.
“Denying entry to oversee the conditions and care provided to the unaccompanied children in the Homestead facility would not only be a breach of transparency and confidence in the care provided there, it would violate the law,” they said in a joint statement.
They pointed a law amended this year to provide members of Congress immediate access. This action came following refused access to Curbelo, former Sen. Bill Nelson and Wasserman Schultz last summer.
Late last week, the Trump administration announced an expansion of beds at the facility from 2,350 to 3,200. Following a previous expansion in January, Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell were able to tour the facility without incident.
The three lawmakers showed up any hoping to somehow get in but had to settle for a news conference when they could not. Democratic leaders indicated repercussions would follow from keeping the lawmakers out.
Star Spano-ed Banner
Countless public figures and sports stars have tried their hand at singing the national anthem. Some of the results have been disastrous, while some were at least tolerable.
Dover Republican Ross Spano falls into neither category. He was called upon to sing the Star Spangled Banner at a recent Lakeland Tigers minor league baseball game.
An appearance on America’s Got Talent is not likely in the cards, but even Simon Cowell would have had nice things to say about this one.