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Delegation for 5.17.19: Abortion battles — Scott v. Crist — Everglades — Florida hacking — fly-in

The battle over legal abortions is heating up on several fronts.

Roe v. Wade in trouble?

In 2016 most Democrats were backing Hillary Clinton for President because they believed in her candidacy or voted out of party loyalty. Others were fearful that a Donald Trump presidency would threaten their core beliefs through Supreme Court appointments.

Their fears were justified as two conservatives have joined the court and a showdown on abortion rights in general, and Roe v. Wade in particular, is on the horizon. The abortion ban signed into law by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey this week is the strictest ever.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signs a controversial anti-abortion bill, the most restrictive in the nation.

“This is an assault on our right to control our bodies. On our health care,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “And it’s intentionally set up to be challenged in the courts — because the law supporters want to overturn Roe v. Wade with Trump’s new SCOTUS justices on the bench.”

Those supporting the Alabama bill are not disputing Wasserman Schultz’s reasoning. In fact, the law does not become effective for another six months as sponsors allowed time for the courts to review and place what are certain to be injunctions.

The new law bans abortions entirely unless the health of the mother is at risk. No other exemptions, including ones for rape or incest, are allowed.

In addition to calling the law “unconstitutional,” Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala said, “it will cost women’s lives.”

Even televangelist and anti-abortion advocate Pat Robertson said the law has “gone too far.”

GOP legislatures in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have recently passed less draconian “heartbeat” laws that forbid abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The Florida legislature defeated two similar bills during the last legislative session.

Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando called the Alabama law “not only illegal, it is an attempt to drag us backward.” Her fellow Democrat, Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach described it as “an all-out war on women’s bodies all over the country.”

Will the certain challenges to this law even make it to the Supreme Court? Once it winds its way through state and federal courts, there is no guarantee the justices would agree to hear the case, instead letting a ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta stand.

Abortion rights supporters, including some on the Supreme Court, may be more concerned with the “heartbeat laws.” After the majority overturned a 40-year-old precedent prohibiting states from taking other states to court without consent, Justice Stephen Breyer uttered his concern for the reversal in a dissent.

Breyer wrote that the majority’s decision “can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next.”

Those who voted for Clinton in 2016, and perhaps even a few who voted for Trump, are wondering along with Breyer.

Rubio: Investigate Kerry

As Trump was indicating he would pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, former Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last fall the meetings were inappropriate and accused Kerry of urging the Iranians to “wait out this administration.”

Sen. Marco Rubio has gone further, asking Attorney General William Barr to investigate the contacts to determine if Kerry broke the law. In a letter to Barr, Rubio inquired whether Kerry violated the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized individuals from undermining the current government.

Marco Rubio is calling for an investigation into former Secretary of State John Kerry for back channel meetings with Iran.

Rubio previously asked Barr’s predecessor, former Secretary of State Jeff Sessions, to do the same thing. Trump fully agrees with the investigation and says Kerry “should be prosecuted.”

“The American people deserve to know that U.S. laws are enforced regardless of any individual’s past possession,” Rubio wrote. “The Department of Justice should, therefore, make a determination on whether or not former Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s recent actions related to the (nuclear deal) potentially violate the Logan Act or the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”

Kerry spokesman Matt Summers said, “There’s nothing unusual, let alone unseemly or inappropriate, about former diplomats meeting with foreign counterparts.”

In 2017, incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., prompting accusations of Logan Act violations. Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty, not for a Logan violation, but for lying to the FBI.

Only two people have been prosecuted under the Logan Act, which was enacted in 1799.

Scott blasts Crist, Europe

Scott’s dislike of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro extends to anyone who supports Maduro, notably Cuba and anyone who supports anyone, notably Cuba, who supports Maduro. And that led him this week to blast both Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Europe.

Crist took what essentially was a secret junket to Cuba in April sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, and fessed up about it Wednesday after the Tampa Bay Times confronted him with travel records. Crist defended the trip saying he is concerned about the Cuban people and the long-term prospects for American relations.

All Scott heard was, “I went to Cuba.”

“Congressman Crist’s secret trip to Cuba is an absolute disgrace,” Scott declared in a news release issued by his office. “He hobnobbed with killers while the money he and any staff spent in Havana was sent to Caracas to keep Maduro and his brutal regime in power. He should immediately tell the people of Florida how much taxpayer money was spent on this trip.”

Rick Scott is calling Charlie Crist’s Cuba visit an ‘absolute disgrace.’

Crist, who has spoken out strongly against Maduro, gave a response to Scott that sounded like an exercise in eye rolling.

“It’s an unfortunate and uninformed reaction by the Senator,” Crist said. “That kind of rhetoric is beneath the dignity of his office and a sad reflection of the toxic political environment we live in. It doesn’t deserve a response beyond that.”

Meanwhile, much of Europe supports Cuba in various ways of trade and travel, so Scott also went after the European Union and 17 of its member states, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain.

“It is time for the international community to recognize that these problems are one and the same,” Scott said of Maduro’s regime and Cuba’s support of it. “Claiming to support freedom for Venezuela while also supporting Cuba is the height of hypocrisy. I’m calling on these nations to end the hypocrisy and cut off ties with Cuba.”

Trump sweetens Everglades pot

The Florida delegation has convinced Trump to agree with their request for $200 million in funding for Everglades restoration projects. Together, they need to get the support of a majority of the House and Senate.

After the President’s original budget request unveiled in April contained less than $70 million for the Everglades, he revealed his new commitment early this week via Twitter.

The President’s first try brought swift reaction from within the delegation. In a joint statement led by Palm City Republican Brian Mast and joined by both Senators and Republican Rep. Francis Rooney, the lawmakers complained the administration was not seeing the big picture.

“It is incredibly shortsighted to continue to underfund a series of projects that are absolutely necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and economic vitality of one of the most dynamic regions of our nation,” the statement read.

Democrats voiced their disapproval the day before Trump made a late-March visit to Lake Okeechobee. Wasserman Schultz said Trump should be “ashamed.”

The reversal was most welcome with Mast saying, “With the White House on our team, working together, I’m confident we can get this done.”

Investing in America

Several American businesses and the CEOs are being shortsighted in their investments, especially those doing business in China, according to a report from the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The American Investment in the 21st Century report was released by Rubio, the committee chairman.

Marco Rubio decries the shortsightedness of American business, especially those doing business with China.

“This report details a decline in domestic investment and makes the case that we must prioritize investment in long-term capabilities in order to ensure future prosperity for American workers and communities,” Rubio said. “Less investment in our own future productivity represents a lack of will to build an economy and country that can sustain and renew itself for generations to come.”

Rubio claims the U.S. is paying a price and being exploited by countries like China because of bad trade deals and the desire of American business to get into that market. The trade-off is turning over intellectual property for that access.

“That’s great for the short- to mid-term. Your stock performance can be very good,” he told The Washington Post. “Your shareholders are going to be very happy. But it’s devastating for American workers, and in the long-term, it’s devastating for America.”

While not a fan of tariffs, Florida’s senior Senator praises Trump and his administration, as well Congressional Republicans, for the state of the U.S. economy “that has rewarded workers long overdue for a raise.” He also offered a warning in an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner.

“If we do not change our public policies to reflect long-term investment as a priority, we will not be able to compete globally or build the America our values demand.”

Which counties were hacked?

The Florida delegation and Gov. Ron DeSantis are learning more about Russian hacking into election databases. The people they represent know very little and that is just the way the FBI wants it.

DeSantis received a briefing late last week from the agency, where agents told him a faction of the Russian military hacked into two Florida county supervisors of elections sites instead of the one county previously reported. While he told reporters about that briefing, he was forbidden to reveal the identities of the counties due to a nondisclosure agreement the FBI required him to sign.

He described the FBI’s handling of the incidents as “over-classified.”

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives went further with their frustration and anger, Five of them, Democratic Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Republican Reps. Michael Waltz and Matt Gaetz held a joint news conference to spell out more details and declare they demanded the FBI change its classification. Other members released statements independently saying similar things.

Bipartisan members of the Florida delegation are calling for more transparency from the FBI over the Russian hacking of the state’s voter rolls.

Murphy and Waltz said they’re also writing bipartisan legislation to require such disclosures.

“We have very clearly and forcefully asked the FBI to declassify that information,” Waltz said.

It seems the FBI is declining to name the counties because of its rules to protect the identity of victims. And in this case, the bureau is identifying the victims as the Supervisors of Elections. Gaetz called that ludicrous, saying the voters are the victims.

Russia tried to get into all 67 counties. While they were only completely successful in two, there were other Florida counties where, as Mucarsel-Powell put it, quoting the FBI briefing, “Russians were able to enter the garage, but not really the house.”

And she said this: “We couldn’t get with certainty, the verification that the Russians actually were not able to manipulate the data that they had access to. They [the FBI] found no evidence of that. They could not say with certainty that they [Russians] did not manipulate that data.”

Scott received a briefing on his own this week, followed by another to the entire delegation. Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has previously received the same information.

The two counties involved were made aware of the intrusions and no votes were altered. The briefings included information that both hacks were caught and stopped.

Gaetz blasts DOD

The delegation is displeased with the FBI’s secrecy in not identifying the two counties involved in the 2016 Russian hacking (see “Which counties” above). Gaetz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, had plenty of criticism for the Department of Defense (DOD) for the way that they handled their role in getting to the bottom of Russian interference.

Gaetz suggested that the DOD, the FBI and other intelligence agencies aren’t working together. He was underwhelmed by a briefing to his fellow committee members.

Matt Gaetz suggests the DOD, FBI and other intelligence agencies aren’t working together.

“I left that briefing deeply disappointed at the lack of cooperation and synergy among the agencies dealing with this challenge,” Gaetz told POLITICO. “I would expect DOD to know a lot more than they do about the tactics, targets and methods of Russian election interference.”

Gaetz also went to the House floor to openly criticize the military for not being “sufficiently engaged or informed on critical aspects of the Russian election interference.”

Gaetz said he couldn’t disclose details presented at the classified briefing but, like his colleagues is in the dark on which two Florida counties were involved in the hacks. He was equally frustrated and concerned at the lack of knowledge and coordination among those agencies sharing the same mission.

“They don’t even know which two Florida counties were hacked,” Gaetz said. “And when DOD sent 11 people to go work with the Department of Homeland Security to have the full suite of authority available to respond to Russia, they were told they weren’t needed.”

Florida not in running for space force, or is it?

Just days after Florida held a statewide summit to kick off its bid for the headquarters of the new pan-military U.S. Space Command, Sunshine State officials got blindsided by an Air Force announcement that Florida was out of the running.

Florida’s response? Essentially to dismiss the announcement as the Air Force’s opinion.

On Tuesday the Air Force, assigned by the Department of Defense to oversee the site search, announced a short-list of bases selected to be finalists for the new headquarters. The list included four bases in Colorado, one in California and one in Alabama. None in Florida.

Space Florida President Frank DiBello insists Florida is still in the running for a Space Force command, no matter what the Air Force says. Image via Vikash Mahadeo/SpaceFlight Insider.

Space Florida has been leading the state’s effort to promote Cape Canaveral for a headquarters candidate. The state’s space promotion agency is not giving up, just because the Air Force has expressed its “perspective,” Space Florida President Frank DiBello told his board the day after the announcement. He assured the board that there still would be more conversation, as Congress and Trump weigh in.

“We’re still very much in the hunt as far as we’re concerned,” DiBello said, addressing, among others, Space Florida Board Chair Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez. “We have a mandate from the governor and from you, and we’re going to keep on track until we’re told to stop.”

“I share your sentiments as well,” Nuñez responded.

Questioning no-bid contract

Three South Florida Democrats are calling for an investigation into a possible conflict in the awarding of a contract to house migrant children. Wasserman Schultz, Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala are concerned with a no-bid contract to expand two youth detention facilities in Miami-Dade County awarded to a company with ties to former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

The lawmakers are questioning the propriety of the contract to a contractor that falls under an umbrella company, Caliburn International, on which Kelly serves as a board member. They wrote to the Department of Human and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General Daniel Levinson calling for a probe.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Murcarsel-Powell are asking tough questions about no-bid contracts tied to former Chief of Staff John Kelly. Image via the Miami Herald.

“We are deeply concerned with the conditions surrounding the contracting, particularly as this for-profit company continues to financially benefit from the prolonged detention of children,” the letter reads.

“We find it troubling that General Kelly’s tenure in the administration led to a dramatic increase in both the number of children held at the Homestead facility and the duration of time that unaccompanied children are being kept in government custody.”

In April, HHS awarded the contract worth $341 million to Comprehensive Health Services to expand the Homestead facility and the other facility that houses teenage migrants without taking bids. By comparison, CBS4 Miami reported a previous contract involving the Homestead facility was awarded after competitive bidding.

Kelly left the White House and the Trump administration three months before the awarding of the contract. Last month, the three lawmakers were denied access to the Homestead facility.

“Above all, we require answers so that we can secure and protect the health and well-being of these children, as HHS continues to thwart our efforts to conduct congressional oversight on the quality of care provided to these minors,” they added.

Shalala’s big haul

It’s a safe bet that Shalala’s second-quarter fundraising report will be more impressive than the first. Earlier this week, she held a fundraiser at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables and pulled in $200,000, just $37,000 short of her entire efforts for the first quarter.

All the funds raised can now go toward her 2020 re-election after the remaining leftover debt from her 2018 victory was erased during the first quarter. The campaign had $228,000 cash on hand as of March 31.

With the help of her friends — both Democrat and Republican — Donna Shalala is pulling in some big fundraising numbers.

For Republicans hoping to win back this seat, represented by moderate Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for nearly three decades, they may have been disappointed at the sight of some within their party showing support for Shalala. Among those in attendance was former state Sen. René García.

Shalala overcame a strong challenge from Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a well-known television commentator, to win the trending Democratic seat in November. The former University of Miami President is one of more than 50 targets of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

Delegation talks agriculture

The delegation came together for their second meeting of the year May 16. Topping the agenda was the agricultural industry which is responsible for 2 million jobs and has a $130 billion annual impact on the state.

Among those making presentations and answering questions was Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried. Joining her were leaders from the Florida Farm Bureau, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, and the Florida Forestry Association.

Ag. Commissioner Nikki Fried talks agriculture with Florida’s congressional delegation.

The delegation discussed unfair trade practices by Mexico, disaster relief and citrus greening.

“One of the most pressing issues impacting Florida’s agriculture industry is addressing the unprecedented growth in imports from Mexico as a result of their unfair subsidies and illegal seasonal dumping, and the impact it’s having domestically,” said delegation co-chair Vern Buchanan.

“Since 2000, Florida has experienced a loss between $1 and $3 billion each year due to increased Mexican imports according to Florida’s Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. Department recently took action that many in the delegation believe will help Florida tomato growers better compete with those from other countries.

Buchanan praised his fellow delegation members, the third largest, for taking a unified approach to issues of common concern.

“When we come together we can get things done,” he said.

Florida Chamber ‘fly-in’

The Florida Chamber of Commerce paid a visit to Capitol Hill this week to talk jobs, trade and economic opportunity with several legislators. The “D.C. Fly-In” included the Florida Chamber’s federal advocacy team and a group of business leaders.

Current economic events were a topic of discussion as trade deals and trade wars continue to play out.

“While new trade tariffs on China have just gone into effect, many in Florida remain eager for Congress to advance a vote on the United States Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) as soon as possible,” said David Hart, the Florida Chamber’s executive vice president.

The Florida group was also focusing on promoting the state as a destination for foreign direct investment and a hub for global trade, among other issues. They were slated to meet with both Scott and Rubio and Republican Reps. Buchanan, Waltz, Daniel Webster and Mario Diaz-Balart, as well as Murphy, the lone Democrat on the initial target list.

On this day

May 17, 1980 — Following the acquittal of four white policemen for the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, the Liberty City region of Miami broke out into the worst riots in its history. The black community demanded the resignation of State Attorney Janet Reno, which she refused, for what they described as a string of failures in achieving justice for crimes against black residents.

When the rioting stopped, 18 people were dead. President Jimmy Carter ordered a federal civil rights investigation, while Gov. Bob Graham appointed a citizen’s committee to investigate the operation of Reno’s office.

May 17, 1999 — Change is coming to Israel after the election of Ehud Barak as the new Prime Minister. Barak ousted Benjamin Netanyahu with 56 percent of the vote.

President Bill Clinton called to congratulate Barak and pledged to restore ties between the U.S. and Israel, which had suffered under Netanyahu, according to a Barak aide. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who urged Israelis to oust the incumbent and “vote for peace,” also congratulated Barak on his victory.

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