Sanctuary city gambit
With a besieged Customs and Border Patrol at the southern border and thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers arriving every day, the question of where to put the masses grows more complex. Last week a federal judge in San Francisco blocked an attempt by President Donald Trump and his administration to prevent most asylum-seekers from claiming that status.
Soon after the ruling, another idea came forward that set social media, the cable networks and Capitol Hill figuratively ablaze. After administration officials initially discounted the plan, Trump later said he was open to placing tens of thousands of asylum-seekers into self-proclaimed “sanctuary cities.”
“Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only,” the President said.
Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach spoke for many Democrats.
Another shameful abuse of power by @realDonaldTrump. These are people’s lives we’re talking about – the president shouldn’t be using families & people seeking shelter as political pawns. #sanctuarycities https://t.co/vLVz8yTxP2
— Rep. Lois Frankel (@RepLoisFrankel) April 12, 2019
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders gave a full-throated defense of the policy, blaming Democrats for the current situation at the border. Describing the situation as a crisis, Sanders told Fox News Sunday the President would look at all possible solutions.
“We have to look at all options across the table, so the towns right there on the border aren’t taking on the entire burden, and so we’re shifting some of that burden to places who constantly claim to want to have open borders and want to have an open city,” she said.
While Trump may not carry out the policy in the end, it succeeded in putting sanctuary city Democrats in an awkward position. Either say those communities will take them — and the enormous logistical challenges that would pose — or blast Trump from bringing it up.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded saying “The extent of this administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated.” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she was unafraid but lashed out at the President.
“What does scare us?” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “A President and federal government that would seek to weaponize a law enforcement agency to punish perceived political enemies.”
Outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel takes it further saying in a statement, “What President Donald Trump fails to understand is that America is a sanctuary country,” blaming Trump for the growing number of sanctuary cities.
In the end, perhaps Sen. Rick Scott may be closer to what is actually happening. He appeared on CNN’s State of the Union program and saying he did not know if the idea is legal or illegal but would not be surprised if Trump had an ulterior motive.
“I mean maybe he’s just saying this to make everybody crazy, make everybody talk about it on their shows,” Scott said.
If so, it is working beautifully.
Holding HUD accountable
Low-income Americans face daily obstacles and finding livable housing is often one of them. Slumlords are part of the problem, and Sen. Marco Rubio wants to hold them, as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), accountable for failing poor Americans while receiving federal tax dollars.
He has reintroduced the HUD Inspection Process and Enforcement Reform Act of 2019, which seeks to improve the federal housing inspection process, hold slumlords accountable for misusing taxpayer dollars and ensure they are not endangering the health and safety of tenants.
“Low-income housing residents have suffered at the hands of slumlords like Global Ministries Foundation who were able to get away with their despicable scheme in part because of HUD’s lax oversight,” said Rubio.
“This legislation will protect vulnerable residents from these despicable slumlords and hold HUD accountable for the deplorable living conditions that too many Floridians have had to face.”
The bill allows HUD to remove individual HUD employees from civil service or reduce the grade or pay for misconduct or performance. Whistleblowers who report misconduct to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) are protected.
The bill does not yet have a companion bill in the House.
Military to Venezuela?
Last week Scott made news last week when he called for the use of the military in Venezuela to guarantee delivery of humanitarian aid. During those same remarks delivered to the American Enterprise Institute, the first-term Republican added an additional concern that U.S. national security is at risk as long as Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro is in power.
With China and Russia helping Maduro cling to power, both countries are possibly establishing a military presence in the Western Hemisphere, Scott said, allowing them to infiltrate the U.S. mainland better. He warned of the possibility of American military engagement to protect from growing threats.
.@jaketapper goads FL senator Rick Scott to endorse US military action in Venezuela, then allows him to absurdly claim Maduro is committing "genocide" MULTIPLE times while Tapper nods & merely thanks him at end.
Shouldn't a journalist ask for evidence of such serious claims? pic.twitter.com/bEO0aoxW2k
— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) April 15, 2019
“Once they have the foothold in Venezuela, they can come here by land eventually,” Scott said. “Our southern border is very porous, as we know. With the right military assets, they can hit Florida or any place else.”
U.S. and western democracies have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the leader of the oil-rich country, but China, Russia and Cuba are coming to Maduro’s aid. The Venezuelan constitution gives the legislature the authority to request foreign assistance, which has not come.
Scott believes the U.S. should respond positively to any such request.
“If the Venezuelan people, through their elected national assembly and their own laws and constitution, request assistance to restore constitutional government and democracy, we should be ready to answer that call,” Scott said.
Mueller report vigil
As a new week began, so did the vigil of waiting for the release of the Mueller report to the public. During last week’s appearance before appropriations committees, Attorney General William Barr promised to release it within days.
Democrats have demanded the release of the complete, unredacted report. That is not what they will get as Barr cited legal requirements to redact intelligence and grand jury information.
Not good enough, said a chorus of Democrats, including Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.
“What’s clear here, is that the Attorney General, like so many other figures from the Trump administration, came up to Capitol Hill, where he testified to an audience of one,” Deutch said on CNN.
Trump’s personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, believes Democrats will see more information than they expect.
“(Barr) is going to release, I’m sure, the vast majority of it,” Giuliani said in a radio interview over the weekend. “I think you’re going to get the full explanation of Mueller; I think you’re going to see no collusion of any kind, which raises the question why do we have this investigation in the first place?” Giuliani said.
Giuliani, who has not seen it, has previously claimed Trump’s legal team should be able to “correct” the report after the public has seen it.
IRS gets new deadline
Tens of thousands of taxpayers often seek extensions for filing their tax returns. This week, it is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) receiving some extra time.
The issue is the production of six years of Trump’s tax returns demanded by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. After missing a deadline last week, Neal gave a firm demand for production April 23.
In a letter to IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, Neal wrote: “Please know that, if you fail to comply, your failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request.”
In a clear indication the IRS and the Department of the Treasury will not comply, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the “IRS won’t be weaponized.”
That would point to a lengthy legal battle where the Trump administration would go “judge shopping” to find a friendly circuit, if possible, seeking at least a temporary injunction on producing the returns. Appeals would likely continue beyond the 2020 elections.
Earlier this month, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Neal and Democrats would “never” see the President’s tax records.
Two polarizing figures
Trump is clearly the most polarizing figure in today’s politics. While he draws nearly universal contempt among Democrats, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota continues to draw the ire of Republicans.
At the same time, the President is called out by Republicans for some of his tweets and Omar has drawn rebukes among Democrats for what many describe as anti-Semitic views. The most recent controversy brings both front and center with their party followers not far behind.
When Omar was telling a Muslim audience they were losing liberties due to a backlash from 9/11, she described the events of that day as “some people did something.” Trump responded by tweeting a video of Omar making her remarks followed by the news coverage of the 9/11 attacks. His tweet said: “WE SHALL NEVER FORGET!”
WE WILL NEVER FORGET! pic.twitter.com/VxrGFRFeJM
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2019
This caused a firestorm among Democrats.
America deserves so much better…
— US Rep Kathy Castor (@USRepKCastor) April 13, 2019
Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee not only blasted Trump but praised a GOP predecessor.
Taking Rep @Ilhan comments out of context then sending out a hyper-incendiary email is #islamophobia. Remember when Pres George W Bush visited a local Mosque after 9/11 to help heal a nation? That’s real leadership. https://t.co/gU41Ej5Gic
— US Rep. Darren Soto (@RepDarrenSoto) April 13, 2019
On the other side, Republican Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota said Omar has “taken her comments from anti-Semitic to anti-American. I will not stand by as she dismisses the most brutal terrorist attack on our soil in American history.
Omar claimed death threats are coming, prompting Pelosi to contact Capitol Police and blaming Trump’s tweet for the threats. Marc Lotter, the Trump campaign’s director of strategic communications, decried the threats, but blamed Omar’s “ill-thought-out words” for eliciting strong animus toward her.
Gaetz trolls Schiff
While serving as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes was the subject of regular Democratic scorn for his role in the committee’s Russia investigation. Now that Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff has become chairman, Republicans are equally displeased with Schiff leadership.
As Schiff still maintains Trump colluded with Russia, Republicans have boiled leading Schiff’s GOP committee members to call for his resignation. Though not a member of the committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz has joined in.
The Fort Walton Beach Republican introduced a resolution that looks to oust Schiff from the intelligence panel. Gaetz is aware the bill has zero chance in a Democratic House, but the bill’s name was all he was looking to promote.
The bill is titled the Preventing Extreme Negligence with Classified Information Licenses Act or PENCIL Act. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has long described Schiff as “pencil neck,” a term briefly picked up by Trump.
The resolution also calls for Schiff to have his security clearance revoked.
The resolution says Schiff “can no longer be trusted by his colleagues in Congress or the American people” and that he “has repeatedly slandered President Donald J. Trump by falsely claiming he colluded with Russia to win the presidency.”
No co-sponsors have come forward.
Dialing for dollars
Three North Florida House members reported rather slow fundraising figures for the first quarter, but neither are expected to have difficulty winning another term. While Reps. Ted Yoho of Gainesville, John Rutherford of Jacksonville and Al Lawson of Tallahassee brought in rather unimpressive numbers, they represent districts favoring their party.
Yoho reported the lowest figure among the three, coming in with $10,508 for the quarter. He now has more than $240,000 cash on hand.
The Gainesville Republican had previously pledged to serve only four terms, but without announcing his retirement, Yoho seems to be poised to rescind that promise.
Lawson reported slightly more than $22,000 for the quarter but was also among the lowest fundraisers in 2016 as he cruised to a second term.
Rutherford raised more than $50,000 in the first quarter, bringing his total war chest to just under $350,000. Among his expenditures for the quarter was $37,500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The NRCC was outraised by their Democratic counterparts in 2018.
All first-quarter fundraising reports were due this week.
Orlando acquires large counterterrorism grant
The Central Florida delegation is hailing the awarding of a substantial grant to the city of Orlando and other cities in the region. Rep. Val Demings announced the landing a $3.25 million grant under the federal Homeland Security Urban Area Security Initiative.
Homeland Security rules had previously knocked Orlando and other communities from the program, but they were able to obtain a rider that expanded the program definition last year.
Demings worked together with her Democratic colleagues, Reps. Soto of Kissimmee and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park to have the cities’ qualifications expanded again. This is ultimately what led to doubling the amount from last year, according to Demings’ office.
“Last year Orlando scored a major victory when we were re-added to the list for vital terror-prevention funding,” Demings said in a news release. “I am thankful that we were able to replicate that success this year.”
The grants provide funding or cities to plan terror-prevention, planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises in urban areas which could be targeted.
“The Pulse nightclub shooting was a stark reminder that Orlando is vulnerable to acts of terrorism, and the federal government has a responsibility to provide the necessary support to help protect our city,” Murphy said in a statement. “Whether they are residents or visitors, members of our community deserve to feel safe.”
Up close in Crimea
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan led a bipartisan delegation of Congressmen to meet with troops Sunday in Ukraine. Afterward, he stressed Eastern Europe remains under threat of brazen aggression by Russian forces.
“Rising authoritarianism and extremism are a threat to emerging democracies and our national security interests,” he said.
Yesterday, I met with U.S. troops at @JMTG_Ukraine as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation to promote U.S. security interests. It was a privilege to meet these troops and thank them firsthand for their service and love of country. @house_democracy @USEmbassyKyiv pic.twitter.com/idek3rZ66v
— Rep. Vern Buchanan (@VernBuchanan) April 15, 2019
Buchanan and members of the House Democracy Partnership, where he serves as the ranking Republican, conducted the trip. The eight-representative delegation spoke with American soldiers at the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine.
“It was a reminder that many service-members are stationed across the globe away from their loved ones for months on end,” Buchanan said. “It was a privilege to meet these troops and thank them firsthand for their service and love of country.”
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia led to the formation of the JMTG-U in 2015. But it hasn’t eased strains completely. Russian ships in November fired on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea off the coast of the Crimean Peninsula. Russia said the Ukrainian ships entered Russian waters and continue to hold prisoner 24 Ukrainian soldiers.
Immunity from prosecution
The national trend toward greater use of medical marijuana continues, but Steube seeks to take that further. Last week he introduced legislation that would clear the way for veterans to be free from prosecution for the use of medical cannabis.
A growing number of states, including Florida, now have medical marijuana programs, but the substance is still illegal under federal law. Steube’s bill would protect veterans from prosecution for its use.
“As a veteran, I’m committed to ensuring that veterans receive the care they deserve, and I know that sometimes that care can include medical marijuana,” Steube said.
“Receiving the appropriate treatment to address your health care needs — using products that are legal in the state in which you live — should not preclude you from your Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.”
The VA issued a directive in 2017 saying veterans would be protected, but Steube’s bill codifies that into law. He was joined by California Democratic Rep. Gilbert Cisneros, Jr. in filing the bill.
Preserving Social Security
Most would agree that Social Security needs adjustments to remain solvent for future generations. With the trust fund set to be depleted in 15 years, proposals coming from different approaches to save the program are increasing.
Last week, Rep. Ted Deutch joined with Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono to propose legislation that would ultimately have the wealthy pay more into the system. The Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act would end the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security.
Instead of contributions ending on earnings above $132,900, the Deutch bill would phase out the ceiling over seven years. After that, all taxpayers would contribute to the system at the same rate.
“Social Security remains one of the most important programs for about 63 million Americans, including most American seniors who depend on it as their main source of income. But this vital source of income for Americans has not kept up with their rising costs and is on track to dry up completely by 2034,” said Deutch.
Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach was one of three original co-sponsors. It is endorsed by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Alliance for Retired Americans, Social Security Works and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition.
Reuniting migrant children
Just days after being refused admission to the Homestead refugee center housing separated or unaccompanied children, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduced legislation designed to find sponsors for unaccompanied children.
The Families, Not Facilities Act would help unaccompanied migrant youth more quickly connect with sponsors by prohibiting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from using information from the placement process to conduct deportation proceedings.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, from July to November of last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 170 undocumented immigrants who came forward to become sponsors of undocumented immigrant children.
The Chronicle reported these arrests were made because of the Trump Administration’s decision to have the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) share information with DHS for immigration enforcement — information sharing that is not necessary to ensure the welfare of the children.
“This legislation would return us to the previous policy of not taking potential sponsors’ immigration status into account when making child placements, which avoided subjecting applicants to harsh immigration actions, including detention,” Wasserman Schulz said.
“We should not be requesting and sharing sponsors immigration status — the best interests of children must always come first.”
It’s been five years jihadists with Boko Hiram abducted 276 from a Chibok school in Nigeria. But U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson still wants to #BringBackOurGirls.
The Hollywood Democrat in 2014 introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning the Boko Haram terrorist group. She also earned national attention for a Twitter campaign that got a publicity boost from then-First Lady Michelle Obama.
But close to half the “girls” never did go home. Wilson Sunday marked the anniversary of the abduction with a fresh call to action.
“That is a day we will never ever forget,” she said.
But on a hopeful note, Wilson participated last week in a Dickinson College panel alongside Patience Bulus, one of the kidnapped girls who did leave Boko Haram’s custody and now studies at the American college.
“This young woman’s determination to turn tragedy into triumph,” Wilson said,” is just one of many reasons why I cannot stop fighting.”
On this day
April 16, 2009 — The Justice Department made public detailed memos describing brutal interrogation techniques used by the CIA. The interrogation methods were used beginning in 2002 and as late as 2005 in the CIA’s secret prisons overseas.
President Barack Obama sought to reassure the agency that those carrying out the interrogations would not be prosecuted. He said those acting on the Justice Department’s legal advice would not be in jeopardy but left open the possibility that those who acted without legal authority could face prosecution.
April 16, 2015 — Gov. Scott plans to sue President Obama’s administration over what he describes as attempting to force the state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. In a release, Scott said “Not only does President Obama’s end to LIP (Low Income Pool) funding in Florida violate the law by crossing the line into a coercion tactic for “Obamacare,” it also threatens poor families.”
Scott is relying on a 2012 Supreme Court decision that the federal government can’t force states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Federal officials earlier sent a letter formally linking LIP funding to expansion of Medicaid under Obama’s health care law.
Tiger scores again
One day after Tiger Woods made his comeback complete by winning the Masters golf tournament, and Trump was ready with a surprise. The President announced via Twitter that Woods would be presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Woods, who is one of the greatest golfers who ever lived, endured many back and knee surgeries to win his first major tournament in 11 years. He joins other great athletes to be honored, including Arnold Palmer, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe.
A member of the Florida delegation is also among those previously bestowed with the medal. President George W. Bush presented Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala, then the President of the University of Miami, with the honor in 2008.