Biden surging everywhere
When former Vice President Joe Biden got into the 2020 presidential sweepstakes, the race to take on President Donald Trump shifted into second gear. It might be more accurate to say Biden shifted as he quickly accelerated past all rivals and into a substantial lead.
He leads by more than 25 points nationwide, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls. While most of the other candidates continued to languish, socialist Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont saw his numbers take a significant dive.
In Florida, a Tel Opinion Research poll released last week showed Biden with a 39 to 16 percent lead over Sanders. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris tied for a distant third with 5 percent each.
The late Tim Russert, the former NBC Meet the Press moderator, famously said in 2000 the election was all about “Florida, Florida, Florida.” That will continue to be accurate as most observers believe any Trump re-election would be impossible without it.
Florida’s 248 Democratic National Convention delegates will be a huge prize for anyone seeking the nomination. Also, Democratic hopefuls are canvassing the state seeking big bucks among a bevy of fundraisers in Central and South Florida.
For example, Democratic rainmaker John Morgan is hosting a big fundraiser at his home near Orlando for Biden May 21. The day before, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg will be in Miami Beach to raise campaign cash.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand from New York was holding a fundraiser in Coral Gables May 14.
Delegation Democrats have not rushed to endorse any of the more than 20 candidates, but former Rep. Patrick Murphy is backing the former Vice-President, along with 23 members of the Florida Legislature. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park has endorsed former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke.
If Biden needs a firewall, Florida may be it for him, but if his numbers remain high here, they are likely to stay high everywhere. If not, he may need that firewall, but the primary schedule shows Florida may not play as large of a role as it did with Republicans in past years.
When Floridians go to the polls March 17, Super Tuesday will have already taken place two weeks before. Heading the list of the March 3 primaries are Texas and California, the largest two states in terms of delegates and electoral votes.
California has traditionally voted in June, but earlier this year the legislature voted to move up the dates to give them more clout. If any candidate wins both of those states, he or she is likely already on their way to the nomination.
The rise of Biden and the fall of Sanders provides evidence of a growing number of Democrats viewed as being more interested in finding a candidate who can win, instead of how much free stuff they can promise. Despite Trump’s taunts, many see Biden as a formidable challenger to the President. Why else would the bizarre saga of Rudy Giuliani’s on-then-off trip to Ukraine have ever been concocted?
Several polls and fundraisers will help determine who among the multitude will qualify to be onstage for the first Democratic debate in Miami June 26 and 27. At least 18 meet the criteria so far.
Whether or not Biden continues to run rings around the field, the number of candidates will likely begin to diminish shortly after the debate.
Scott nudges Senate Dems
While the House was passing a disaster-relief bill (see Disaster below), Senators were set to begin their effort to do the same. There is no chance they will pass the House bill approved last week in its present form but will try to come to an agreement.
Sen. Rick Scott has had an ongoing battle with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on who is playing politics with disaster relief. Senate Democrats are demanding funding for Puerto Rico to approach levels approved in the House; something Trump has said he would not sign.
Scott joined with Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue in a letter to Senate Democrats urging them to make a deal. They pointed out that in addition to southern states being in desperate need for relief from Hurricane Michael, many Democratic Senators are from states in line to benefit from funds linked to other recent disasters.
As the Senators complained about more than 200 days passing without relief, Schumer was front and center.
“Even after Hurricane Sandy, which sparked substantial debate, Congress passed a supplemental funding bill 74 days later,” they wrote. “At the time, Sen. Schumer complained about the delay and said, ‘we can’t wait any longer.’”
“We can’t wait any longer,” they continued. “Our states need to continue repairs on military installations, help communities with debris removal, and support our agricultural communities that were devastated by this storm.”
During last week’s campaign rally in Panama City, Trump pledged $448 million in Housing and Urban Development funds to help those displaced by the hurricane (see Rubio below).
Navigating DC bureaucracy
Trump’s rally last week in Panama City had plenty of partisan jabs at Democrats, but attendees likely enjoyed a policy announcement just as much. The President’s pledge of $448 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery assistance funds (CDBG-DR) meant some recovery could begin while full federal assistance languishes in Congress.
They also cheered at the news the federal share of the cleanup costs has increased to 90 percent, instead of the usual 75 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio and GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz specifically asked for the commitment on Air Force One traveling from Washington to Florida.
With the funds committed, Rubio seeks to ensure it remains a high priority within the Department of Housing and Development (HUD) and on the to-do list of Secretary Ben Carson. In a letter written the day after the rally, led by Rubio and signed by eight Republican Senators, including Scott, they ask Carson to quickly publish the necessary rules needed to make the money flow.
“ … it is time to publish, in the Federal Register, the rules that will allow states to take the next step to receive the allocated CDBG-DR funds,” the letter reads. “We fully realize the massive undertaking that is required of your department, but respectfully requests this next step be taken without delay.”
The Senators understand how Washington works and that HUD cannot merely write a check for the funds, but instead a process must be played out before help arrives.
“We also understand your department is not the final authorization of such CDBG-DR funds being distributed and commit our support and assistance in getting the regulations into the Federal Register,” they added.
Trade war escalates
The trade war with China is intensifying after Trump kept his promise to more than double tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. China kept its promise to retaliate by hiking tariffs on U.S. goods from anywhere between 5 percent and 25 percent.
Negotiations are continuing, but in the meantime, the game of recriminations continue to accelerate. Trump tweeted China “will be hurt very badly” if they don’t make a deal and blamed them because they “had a great deal, almost completed, & you backed out!”
His chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, admitted Sunday consumers would be paying higher costs due to the tariffs, meaning “both sides will suffer.”
While the President has some bipartisan opposition, he also has bipartisan support for getting tough with China. Rubio wants to hold China accountable but is squeamish on tariffs.
“For trade to benefit our country, our trade partners must play by the same rules we do,” he said in a statement following Trump’s announcement. “While trade rules must be enforced, tariffs are no substitute for a national strategy that makes us more competitive through research and development, skills training and pro-worker economic policies.”
He promised to release a plan that promotes free trade “while also protecting American workers and key industries.”
Trump received full-throated support from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Scott said the Chinese “do not play fairly,” and barring a deal, tariffs are appropriate.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to build up the American economy and stop sitting here and trying to build up the Chinese economy,” he said.
Disaster relief clears House
Just two days after Trump visited the Panhandle and held a rally in Panama City, the House passed another disaster relief bill that will help the region and other areas ravaged by natural disasters. He cannot take credit for the bill’s passage as he opposed up until the final vote, which saw 34 Republicans, including four from Florida, join 223 Democrats in voting for it.
The price tag is $19.1 billion, up from the $14.2 billion passed in January. Part of the increase was due to a $685 million addition championed by Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, who sought the funding for military base repair or rebuilding, including Tyndall Air Force base.
Dunn was one of the Florida Republicans to vote for the bill saying, “Our military readiness is in crisis and will continue to be if we do not provide the necessary resources to our armed services.” Among those also joining Florida Democrats in support were Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Ross Spano and Mario Diaz-Balart.
Democrats urged the Senate to take steps to either pass the House bill or one of their own. If it is the latter, it would then go to a conference where a final bill would hopefully emerge.
“It is way past time to act,” said Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee. “We are weeks away from Florida’s 2019 Hurricane Season and our families cannot withstand another beating without this much-needed aid.”
Much of Trump’s opposition stemmed from what he believes is excessive funding to Puerto Rico at the expense of other states. Rep. Charlie Crist addressed the President’s misgivings and use of widely contested figures of relief going toward the island commonwealth.
“The House has acted twice now,” Crist said. “Opposition to support for Puerto Rico must end. American lives are on the line. Let’s stop the poisonous politics and do the right thing for all Americans.”
Pre-existing conditions bill passes
Late last week, House Democrats turned to a winning issue for them by passing the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act by a 230-183 vote. The delegation voted entirely along party lines.
If enacted, the bill would overturn a waiver given by the Trump administration that would free states from some regulations under Obamacare. Democrats maintain the waiver would allow states to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, making the legislation necessary.
Some wrongly believe the American people won’t read beyond the title of a bill, they are wrong… I find it loathsome that anyone would use our health for their political games…. https://t.co/Qc6o0auq3s #FL15 pic.twitter.com/VmbT5qo5GI
— @RepRossSpano (@RepRossSpano) May 8, 2019
“We, along with the American people, will not tolerate the administration’s constant and ruthless attacks on health care,” read a statement from all 13 Democrats in the delegation.
“This legislation defends against harmful attacks and rescinds dangerous guidance from the administration that would give states the ability to discriminate against the 7.8 million Floridians with pre-existing conditions.”
Republicans were left with arguments that the bill is not truly about pre-existing conditions or that Democrats were harming health care innovation in Florida and elsewhere.
“Some wrongly believe the American people won’t read beyond the title of a bill, they are wrong. they will, Americans care,” said Spano on the House floor. “I find it loathsome that anyone would use our health for their political games.”
Diaz-Balart said the bill’s title is misleading.
“Despite its feel-good, buzzworthy title, nothing in this bill would protect individuals with pre-existing conditions,” the Miami Republican said. “Instead, it’s designed to eliminate health care choices for states, and stops the administration from granting waivers that could reduce premiums and out-of-pocket costs, increase access and provide more affordable coverage.”
It now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to languish.
Eglin gains, loses
Eglin Air Force Base received two good doses of good news this week, with one small helping of bad. A new squadron of fighter jets is coming in while a weapons squadron is on the way out as news of millions of dollars to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged base could be on the way.
The House passed their version of disaster relief (see disaster relief above), which includes millions for rebuilding significant portions of the base. The other good news came first.
A new F-35A training squadron is heading for the installation located near Fort Walton Beach. About 500 additional military personnel will be relocating to the area, according to a joint release from Rubio and Gaetz.
“I welcome the decision by the Air Force to make Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base home to two F-35 squadrons,” said Rubio. “My highest priority is ensuring the men and women who proudly and bravely serve our country have the tools they need to succeed.”
Gaetz was ready to welcome another squadron to North Florida. The new F-35s will join an existing squadron based there for several years.
“This is a tremendous victory for Florida’s 1st Congressional District, and we stand proud to have them flying through our skies in Northwest Florida,” he said.
Nearly one day after the announcement of the new group of F-35s, the Air Force announced a fighter weapons squadron would relocate from Eglin to Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Approximately 55 military jobs will move to Utah.
Soto draws opponent
Florida’s 9th Congressional District is not expected to be a battleground, but Rep. Darren Soto has another opponent for re-election next year. Republican mortgage banker Sergio Garcia has announced he will take on the second-term Democrat.
Bill Olson of St. Cloud filed to run last month.
Garcia is a native of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico and settled into Central Florida in 1991. He is new to politics and has said he is running to try to improve America for his nine grandchildren.
He says he is most concerned about family issues, particularly centering on the nuclear family.
“I am a strong supporter of the nuclear family. I believe that family values are something this country has been losing,” he said. “I would love to have a stronger family, when you have a father and a mother.”
He spoke of a platform which emphasized small government and across-the-board budget cuts. Also included in his platform are religious freedom, anti-abortion, pro-gun rights and state-run education as opposed to federal.
The Cook Political Report rates CD 9 as Solid Democratic.
Future leadership for Castor?
The profile of Rep. Kathy Castor has risen since Democrats gained the majority after the midterm elections. An appointment to a prominent committee for the Tampa Democrat has played a role in that rise.
With climate change a signature issue for Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s appointment of Castor to chair the Select Committee on Climate Crisis raised her profile among those in her party. It has led to other prominent roles.
Castor was recently chosen to give the weekly Democratic Address after the House passed her bill to keep the U.S. in the Paris agreement on climate change.
“The Climate Action Now Act is a straightforward bill I sponsored that prevents the Trump administration from breaking America’s commitment and leaving the Paris Climate Agreement,” she said. To address the climate crisis, we need to stop carbon pollution from accumulating in our atmosphere. That requires action. Urgent action. Ambitious action. We simply don’t have any more time for denial or delay.”
Castor may not want a spot in House leadership when one opens, but if so, some changes could be coming in the not-too-distant future. Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina are each in their late-70s.
Making marriage great again
The tax code is set up where married couples are at a disadvantage, and Republican Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota wants to change that. Steube seeks to abolish what is known as the Marriage Tax Penalty with legislation he has named the Make Marriage Great Again Act.
Steube says his bill, which would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, would strengthen American families.
“The American family is the backbone of our nation and marriage is a fundamental part of our society that should be incentivized, not deterred by our tax code,” said Steube. “Ask any married person and they will tell you that the Marriage Tax Penalty is tough — it makes it harder to pay the bills, provide for your family, and save for the future, all because you’re married. This bill would change that.”
In 2017, the most recent tax year information available, over 56 million married individuals filed tax returns. Under the current tax system, married individuals have a separate table within the Internal Revenue Code despite whether they file jointly or separately. The income thresholds were determined arbitrarily and have resulted in some married couples paying more in taxes than if they were not married.
“This bill would eliminate the penalty by doubling the income thresholds within the tax code for a single person so that no married couple will have to pay more in taxes than they would have were they single,” Steube added “This will strengthen our nation by incentivizing the stability of marriage and giving married Americans the ability to financially thrive for generations to come.”
Prosecuting presidents bill offered
The question of whether a sitting President can be indicted has been a point of debate during the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. By accepting that a President cannot be indicted, as the Justice Department has maintained for years, the statute of limitations could run out on specific crimes, prompting some House Judiciary Committee Democrats to prevent that occurrence.
With Trump clearly in mind, Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton joined with Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and California Rep. Eric Swalwell to file the No President is Above the Law Act. If enacted, the statute of limitations would be frozen while a President is in office even for any crimes committed before that President’s election.
“No one should be able to escape responsibility for their crimes by hiding in the Oval Office,” Deutch said in a joint release. “If the Justice Department maintains its policy giving Presidents a break from the threat of criminal prosecution during their term, Congress should act to ensure that it doesn’t ultimately prevent the pursuit of justice.”
According to lawmakers, most federal criminal offenses carry a five-year statute of limitations. Therefore, a president who is not prosecuted while in office for a crime they may have committed — before or during the presidency — could end up escaping liability altogether if the statute of limitations runs out before their term is over.
This would be especially true, they maintain, if that President is elected to a second term. The three Democrats leaving the current system in place would “make a mockery of the rule of law.”
Nadler added, “the presidency is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
Spending bill approved
The House Appropriations Committee is in the process of passing spending bills, including one late last week that covers labor, health and human services, and education. Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel touted some of the spending lines she worked to have inserted.
Frankel, a member of the subcommittee covering these areas, was pleased to see funding added for items that included veterans’ student service centers, community learning centers and a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health.
This week, we passed the largest non-defense funding bill out of committee. It helps all Floridians – from student veterans to working families. @AppropsDems are investing in education, child care, & health care #ForThePeople. Check out some of the big wins ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/HlcF7KfdR2
— Rep. Lois Frankel (@RepLoisFrankel) May 10, 2019
Also, she advocated for $3 billion in HIV/AIDS research, $11.6 billion for Head Start, and a 30 percent increase for the Title X Family Planning Program. Trump recently instituted a “gag rule” within the Title X program, placed on hold by a federal judge, that would forbid referrals to abortion providers.
“This bill helps all Floridians — from veterans pursuing education to working families who need quality, affordable child care,” said the West Palm Beach Democrat. “By fighting for the people, Democrats are investing in public health, arts and education, and programs that enrich the lives of our children, students and all Americans.”
Overall, this policy area would receive $189.9 billion if the bill passes with no changes from the Senate. It represents a $9.9 billion increase from the previous year.
NRCC attacks Mucarsel-Powell
Republicans in Washington are using a common tactic to go after targeted Democrats. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is the latest to be featured in a digital ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
The ad claims Mucarsel-Powell stays silent while a controversial Democrat “supports Nicolas Maduro,” the Venezuelan dictator. The linkage comes from a statement by Rep. Ilhan Omar, a frequent target of conservative wrath, that laid some of the blame for Venezuela’s problems on the U.S.
“You know, I mean, a lot of the policies that we have put in place has kind of helped lead the devastation in Venezuela,” Omar recently said.
The ad calls out Mucarsel-Powell for not criticizing Omar and demanding she joins those who seek to remove the first-term Minnesota Democrat from the House Foreign Relations Committee.
“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell needs to definitively state whether Ilhan Omar should be kicked off the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” said NRCC spokeswoman Camille Gallo. “There is no place on that committee for someone who supports the murderous Venezuelan dictator.”
The NRCC is making a concerted effort to link Omar, whom they describe as an anti-Semite, to multiple targets on their list for 2020 with Mucarsel-Powell being the latest. In addition to Mucarsel-Powell, Reps. Crist, Donna Shalala and Murphy are among the list of 55.
Curbelo invited, disinvited
The House Ways and Means Committee scheduled a hearing for this week on the “economic and health consequences of climate change.” Among those invited to testify was former Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who was a co-founder of the House Climate Change Caucus with Deutch.
Democrats, especially House Majority Leader Hoyer and Rep. Mucarsel-Powell of Miami, were “incensed,” according to reports. The invitation to Curbelo, whom Mucarsel-Powell defeated in 2018, was revoked.
According to POLITICO, Hoyer approached chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, and told him to cancel the hearing entirely. Neal did not immediately comply, but quickly withdrew the invitation to Curbelo.
“Chairman @RepRichardNeal kindly invited me to testify at @WaysMeansCmte next week on #climatepolicy only to be overruled by petty partisans who prefer to exploit this issue for personal political gain rather than establishing a sincere dialogue about solutions,” Curbelo tweeted.
Mucarsel-Powell’s only public statement came from a spokesperson who said the Miami Democrat “isn’t a member of the committee and doesn’t have control over who’s invited.”
Democratic Rep. Murphy of Winter Park is a committee member and criticized the reactions of her fellow Democrats. She also praised Curbelo for his leadership on the issue.
“This is a mistake & very disappointing,” she tweeted. “Addressing climate change requires bipartisan cooperation & solutions. @carloslcurbelo is a bold leader on this critical issue and deserves to be heard for his unique insight. I hope @WaysMeansCmte reconsiders its decision to disinvite him.”
On this day
May 14, 1980 — President Jimmy Carter announced he was ending the “haphazard and dangerous” freelance sealift of refugees from Cuba to the United States. Instead, he challenged Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to allow an immediate airlift or sealift from the island nation.
“We are prepared to start with an airlift or a sealift immediately as soon as President Castro accepts this offer,” Carter said. So far, thousands of Cuban refugees have made it to U.S. shores, but several have perished in their journey toward freedom.
May 14, 2001 — The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a setback to those seeking the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The court ruled 8-0 in a case involving a California “cannabis cooperative” that supplied marijuana to patients who have cancer, AIDS and other illnesses.
Federal law “reflects a determination that marijuana has no medicinal benefits worthy of an exception,” the court said in an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas. The court upheld federal authorities’ ability to obtain a court order shutting down the cooperative.