Dems weigh impeachment, contempt
The House of Representatives and President Donald Trump, as well as his administration, are on a collision course for either impeachment, contempt of Congress or both. The escalating feud over multiple House investigations has reached a boiling point over refusals to testify, give depositions or produce documents.
“This is a massive, unprecedented and growing pattern of obstruction,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said, warning recalcitrant federal employees to “think very carefully about their own legal interests” in refusing to comply with the panel’s requests.
Trump, said personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, provided “unprecedented cooperation” to special counsel Robert Mueller. Because of that, the President is basically telling Congress to pound sand and he will be “fighting all the subpoenas.”
Cummings’ use of the word “obstruction” is instructive as obstruction of justice will be the foundation of any articles of impeachment, if they go that far. Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando believes there is already enough to proceed and urged her colleagues to move forward.
During a recent conference call among House Democrats, Demings was quoted by sources as saying they should take that step.
“As a 27-year law enforcement officer, and while I understand we need to see the full (Mueller) report and supporting documents, I believe we have enough evidence now,” she was quoted.
Though not an official public statement, it marks the first time a delegation Democrat’s words definitively calling for impeachment became public. They are important because Demings is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which would draft any articles of impeachment for consideration by the full House.
If the House does not go down that road, there are increasing threats of holding Trump administration officials in contempt of Congress. The White House is fighting a Capitol Hill appearance by former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and Cummings has already threatened former official Carl Kline with contempt, who skipped an appearance.
POLITICO wrote earlier in the week that if it were former President Barack Obama and his administration doing the same thing, the “GOP would have lit its collective hair on fire.”
That is true because they did light their hair on fire when it was former Attorney General Eric Holder stonewalling them over the 2012 Fast and Furious investigation. The end result was Congress voting to hold the Attorney General of the United States in contempt.
Since Holder suffered no serious ramifications from the Republicans’ huffing and puffing seven years ago, expect Trump and Attorney General William Barr to remember this and proceed with their own stonewalling.
The biggest difference between the two was Obama did not have a special counsel report on the shelf intimating he may have obstructed justice. Look for Cummings and other Democrats to pound away at obstructing a Congressional investigation as a reason to think like Demings.
Though it is far from certain impeachment is a political winner for Democrats, it could possibly satisfy a restless base as the GOP considered in 1998 when there was no chance former President Bill Clinton would be removed from office.
Trump and officials in his administration might wear contempt of Congress, whose approval ratings are in the teens, as a badge of honor.
Rubio backs DeSantis plea
Trump is hearing from senior Florida elected officials that with the re-categorizing of Hurricane Michael as a Category 5, the federal government needs to pick up more of the recovery tab. First, Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote to Trump asking for the feds to increase their share to 90 percent, followed by a letter of support from Sen. Marco Rubio the following day.
Both pointed out that by the NOAA’s designation April 19 that Michael was the highest level of storm, an increased federal share would help Panhandle communities save millions of dollars in recovery costs. This would also be helpful with the current slow pace of recovery funds and the gridlock on Capitol Hill due to disputes over the share to be received by Puerto Rico.
“The Florida Panhandle has experienced unprecedented destruction to its communities, and this determination by NOAA underscores the severity of the storm,” Rubio wrote. “As such, I write in support of the State of Florida’s request for an increase in the Federal cost share from 75 percent to 90 percent for eligible costs for permanent and emergency work associated with Hurricane Michael for the duration of recovery.”
DeSantis said in his letter that Michael’s impact will exceed $2.6 billion, with state agencies already reporting more than $1.1 billion in costs. Legislative leaders have said the state costs have exceeded $1.6 billion.
Scott doubles down
Sen. Rick Scott has spent a good portion of this week traveling to Panama, Colombia and Argentina. A common theme of the trip was the steadily deteriorating situation in Venezuela.
“Now, I’m traveling to Latin America to show the people of Venezuela that the United States stands with them in their fight for liberty,” Scott said in a news release before departure. “I look forward to partnering with our allies in Latin America to end the Maduro regime and support those who are fighting for human rights, freedom and democracy.
Scott has made recent headlines calling for the use of the U.S. military, if necessary, to force distribution of humanitarian relief supplies denied to Venezuelans by dictator Nicolás Maduro. Once on the ground in South America, he doubled down on those comments.
Standing before a warehouse Scott said contained supplies to feed 30,000 people for 10 days, the first-term Republican tweeted supplies must get to desperate Venezuelans “who are suffering, who are dying” by nearly any means necessary.
“It’s clear that we’ll have to consider American military assets to deliver aid,” Scott said. “@Nicolasmaduro has left us no choice.”
Scott, Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart are among the very few advocating for military involvement. The Daily Caller, a conservative publication, ran a story with the headline Scott “casually calls” for using the military, if necessary.
Russia has predicted “catastrophic” consequences should the U.S. intervene.
Refusing hacked documents
Part of the Mueller report detailed Russian-backed operations that hacked documents from the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Republicans took full advantage of the information when it became public.
DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos has written to her counterpart at the Republican National Campaign Committee (RNCC), Chairman Tom Emmer, asking him to pledge not to use hacked information. She cited the 2016 race involving Rep. Brian Mast’s successful election to the District 18 seat, where some associated with Mast claimed the use of hacked materials to the campaign’s benefit.
Mast has denied the claim. The Democratic primary for District 26 was also reportedly involved.
“There is no question that agents of the Russian government and other bad actors will attempt to infiltrate both the DCCC and NRCC to steal information for malicious use again in this upcoming election,” Bustos wrote.
“As the heads of two major party organizations in our nation, we have an obligation to send a clear and unified message that Democrats and Republicans reject foreign interference in our elections.”
She then listed a six-point pledge to refrain from using such material and asked Emmer to do the same. Neither Emmer, nor the NRCC commented on the letter.
Census question argued
Regular Supreme Court followers have learned over the years to never assume how a particular Justice (or the full court) will rule based upon the questions they ask, or don’t ask, of litigants. Those watching the current case involving the placing of a citizenship question on the 2020 census form would do well to remember that.
Still, many who heard this week’s arguments came away with the feeling the court would ultimately allow the question to be inserted. With the court now made up of a solid 5-4 conservative majority, observers came away with the view the five conservatives seemed to agree Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has the authority to insert the question.
The court’s four liberal justices consisting of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor pointed to studies that indicate an accurate census is highly unlikely with undocumented immigrants likely to respond. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh countered that countries such as Canada and France collect citizenship data.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are expected to agree with Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.
Trump bypassed lower courts and went straight to the Supreme Court due to approaching deadlines. The Commerce Department indicated it needed to begin printing the census materials in June, the same month the court announces its final decisions for the term.
Election offense, defense
While both parties have long lists of targeted seats to flip, each side recognizes vulnerabilities. This week, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) revealed a list of their own who needs some extra assistance.
The Patriot List consists of 10 Republicans in districts that either “tilts,” “leans,” or “likely” Republican with one rated as a “tossup.” None of these races are in Florida.
In February, Democrats announced their Frontline Program, identifying 44 incumbents, mostly freshman, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) plans to protect in 2020. District 26 Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is the only Floridian on that list.
The NRCC is looking at 55 Democratic seats for possible pickups. Those include Reps. Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala of Coral Gables, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.
The DCCC recently named Crist as one of five regional vice-chairs for their 2020 ground operation. Earlier, they announced a list of 32 targeted seats, including those of Rep. Ross Spano of Dover and Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City.
Digital Patriots named
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) has selected two members of Congress, including one from Florida, as recipients of the association’s Digital Patriot Award. Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Oregon Republican Greg Walden will be honored at the association’s 15th annual dinner April 30 at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington.
— Consumer Technology Association (@CTATech) April 22, 2019
CTA touted Murphy’s participation on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, as well as her advocacy for “smart trade policy, standing up against tariffs that hurt small businesses and consumers.” Murphy is also a member of the Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support.
“Reps. Walden and Murphy fight for smart, pro-growth policies that make America the world’s innovation leader,” said Gary Shapiro, CTA president and CEO, in a statement. “They know that technology drives economic growth.”
“For every job created in the consumer tech sector, close to three jobs are supported throughout the rest of our economy. We thank our Digital Patriots for their leadership and will continue working with them to create prosperity and opportunities from coast to coast.”
Posey: investigation a ‘travesty’
Earth Day brought Republican Rep. Bill Posey to Port Canaveral to tout investments, improvements and a commitment to preserving the environment. His visit allowed him to view a federally-funded sand bypass project that has dredged tons of sand from one location to fortify nearby coastlines.
“Our port is a leader, not only in economic development but also is a pioneering leader in caring for our environment,” said Posey, who is a founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Estuary Caucus. “We have learned that our economic well-being depends upon the health of our ecology. We take care of ourselves when we take care of our environment.”
Canaveral Port Authority Chairman Micah Loyd recognized Posey for being “instrumental in helping us secure” the federal funding for the sand bypass project. The $18 million project began in November and is estimated to be completed by the end of this month.
On another topic, Posey could not get away without being asked his view on the recently-released Mueller report. During a news conference following the port tour, he called the investigation a “travesty.”
“You had a crew of attorneys that hated the president’s guts doing the investigation,” without any opportunity for cross-examination, Posey said. He described the President as being “exonerated,” adding “If he wasn’t, they would have filed charges.”
Addressing prescription drug costs
Prescription drug prices, especially for those suffering from diabetes, was on the mind of Democratic Rep. Darren Soto and several of his constituents this week. Soto held a prescription drug town hall and on the same day released a Congressional report on the high prices of diabetes drugs for seniors and the uninsured.
The report shows that Medicare takes a big financial hit because the program is not permitted to negotiate drug prices. With that limitation, Medicare’s costs in District 9 are more than three times higher than in the United Kingdom, five times higher than Australia, and more than twice as high as Canada.
“Our seniors on Medicare and those uninsured are sadly the ones who suffer most (from higher prices,” Soto said in a news release. “We must reverse this trend now!”
Soto’s office revealed 30,000 Medicare beneficiaries in his district have been diagnosed with diabetes. The 50 most popular brand-name diabetes medications cost the Medicare program and beneficiaries nearly $26 million in District 9 alone in 2016.
For those without health coverage, which number about 120,000 in his district, most may be responsible for the entire burden of the cost. More than 30 million people in the U.S., including one in four seniors, have diabetes.
Buchanan gets an answer
The disturbing number of suicides among military veterans that has caused concern for Rep. Vern Buchanan, the delegation and much of Capitol Hill. Efforts to address the issue appeared to have broken down causing Buchanan to write to Trump asking to make the issue a high priority.
“At a time when a veteran commits suicide every 72 minutes in the United States and suicide rates among active-duty service members continue to skyrocket, we need to do everything in our power to combat this tragic epidemic,” the Longboat Key Republican wrote.
This week Buchanan received a response from the administration it is taking aggressive steps to curb the growing number of suicides among veterans and members of the armed forces.
David Carroll, the director of the Department of Veteran Affair’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, assured Buchanan that “suicide prevention is the top clinical priority for VA. We must approach this matter compassionately and clinically and discard the practices of the past that failed to address this national tragedy.”
Assistant Secretary of Defense James Stewart told Buchanan that his department is working to “provide seamless access to mental health care, and suicide prevention resources for transitioning Service members during the year following discharge, separation or retirement.”
The suicide rate among veterans is about twice that of the general population and has been rising among younger veterans who served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump’s proposed budget submitted to Congress included a $70 million increase in funding for suicide prevention.
“VA’s public health approach means doing things differently than we have in the past,” Carroll told Buchanan.
A little payback?
First quarter fundraising totals for Sarasota Republican Greg Steube were far from eye-popping, but he is looking for stronger numbers to report when the second quarter ends June 30. That should be helped with an appearance by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at an April 26 fundraiser in Sarasota.
Pre-event reception with McCarthy, Steube and other guests is open to those with a $500 contribution. Dinner follows for those willing to contribute $2,800, the maximum allowed.
Steube raised $27,371 in the first quarter, with much of those funds coming from D.C. interests. He had more than $147,000 cash on hand through March 31.
McCarthy could be coming to Florida as a show of gratitude. Steube wrote a check for $35,000 to the NRCC during the first quarter.
McCarthy is counting on winning enough seats to become speaker in 2020. He should not have to worry about holding Steube’s District 17 seat after winning his 2018 race in a landslide.
More trouble in Broward
This week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled DeSantis had the authority to remove former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and replace him with Gregory Tony. Israel was removed following the shootings in Parkland last year and now Tony has his own major issue to confront.
A video taken last week shows Broward Sheriff’s Deputies forcefully subduing an unarmed African-American teenager. Images of the youth’s head banging on the pavement brought outrage from around the country, claiming the deputies used excessive force.
The Broward County Congressional Delegation that includes Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, was incensed.
To view the video, click on the image below:
“We are outraged by the appearance of unprofessional conduct of the two Broward County Sheriff’s Office deputies last Thursday in Tamarac,” they said in a joint statement. “Rather than de-escalating the situation, the deputies appear to have dramatically overreacted with disproportionate use of force — pepper-spraying a nonviolent student, tackling and forcing his neck to the ground, and repeatedly striking his head on the pavement.”
Jeff Bell, President of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, said the deputies used the proper “amount of force necessary to affect the arrest.” Tony said his office would conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.
“At a time when unarmed black children are being beaten and killed at an alarming rate by law enforcement in this country, we appreciate that Sheriff Gregory Tony is conducting a thorough investigation, but we also urge him to be fully transparent and to take appropriate action to reassess the Office’s crisis response training and techniques, so that this type of incident does not occur in our community in the future,” the Broward Democrats added.
On this day
April 26, 1998 — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch dismissed speculation that independent counsel Kenneth Starr will indict first lady Hillary Clinton. While he did not give her a ringing endorsement, Hatch said Starr was not inclined to take that step.
“I don’t think the first lady’s going to be indicted, no matter how much her fingerprints are on almost everything from Whitewater up to now in the eyes of many who are looking at this objectively,” Hatch said. “I don’t think she’ll be indicted, but I do think the final report is going to be highly critical.”
April 26, 2004 — Democratic Sen. John Kerry questioned whether President George W. Bush skipped National Guard duty 30 years ago and further accused Bush of spreading false information about Kerry’s service in Vietnam. Kerry was reportedly fuming over Republican attacks on his service and war protests leveled his strongest attacks against Bush.
“This comes from a President who can’t even show or prove that he showed up for duty in the National Guard,” Kerry said. “And I’m not going to stand for it.”
Happy Birthday (April 27) to Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida’s 11th Congressional District.