Border crisis visits Florida
Most of the state of Florida, from Gov. Ron DeSantis on down, was surprised by the revelation that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) planned to send hundreds of asylum-seekers from Texas to Broward and Palm Beach County. President Donald Trump was not saying he knew of the plan, but the idea brought opposition from Florida Republicans and careful responses from Democrats.
“We have been very cooperative, and then to have this put into certain communities, I think it’s just something that we don’t want,” DeSantis said Friday during a news conference in Sarasota.
The plan became public late last week when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed what was happening. He added that “unlawful immigrants are overwhelming the system.”
One of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach said he opposes having “a horde of illegal immigrants dumped in our state. I’m sure Texas, Arizona and New Mexico feel the same way.”
In an attempt to place Democrats in an awkward position last month, Trump floated the idea of transporting tens of thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers into sanctuary cities. Florida Democrats did not openly reject the idea of absorbing new arrivals into Florida, where no sanctuary cities exist but blasted Trump and his administration for attempting this strategy without a plan.
“While I’m compelled to point to the President’s mean-spirited, ongoing effort to demonize immigrants and divide our country rather than seriously addressing this issue, I hesitate saying more about these reports because no one in the administration seems to know what is happening,” said Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, who represents parts of both counties.
Deutch was spot on about few knowing what was going on. The “plan” called for releasing about 500 migrants per month into each county for several months to come.
In a statement, Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach also blasted the administration for not communicating with local and state officials and not offering resources to absorb new arrivals.
“Putting hundreds of men, women, and children on the streets is not a plan — it is a calculated and cruel disaster waiting to happen,” he said.
Rubio was informed of the intention, not by the administration, but Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. Soon after, Rubio wrote to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan asking nine pointed questions on the administration’s strategy.
By the weekend, South Florida residents may have become thankful people like Gaetz are in Congress and DeSantis is in the Governor’s office. By Friday afternoon, the plan was halted for now with the administration saying a plan for the relocations are “not currently in the works.”
They indeed used their influence with Trump to get results. Rubio’s letter to McAleenan asked him to “respond to the following questions prior to authorizing or scheduling any such movements.”
With thousands of migrants either illegally crossing the border or turning themselves in as asylum-seekers each day, it is almost inevitable Florida will be called upon to take on some of them. The politics of where they go will only grow more heated.
Making Iran pay
A bipartisan group of Representatives and Senators have filed a bill that would hold Iran accountable for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 243 American servicemen. If enacted, the bill would disburse $1.68 billion in Iranian funds to families of those killed.
Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton sponsors the Senate bill, co-sponsored by Rubio and three Democratic and three Republican colleagues. A companion bill was offered in the House sponsored by Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego and Indiana Republican Greg Pence.
“More than 30 years after Iranian terrorists bombed the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, the United States Senate is sending a clear message of support to the victims’ families as they rightfully fight for the opportunity to seize Iranian assets as restitution for the attack,” Rubio said.
The House bill, known as the OORAH Act, is personal for Rep. Pence, the older brother of Vice President Mike Pence. First Lt. Greg Pence was stationed at the barracks, but his battalion had shipped out only days before the attack.
If enacted, families would have access to $1.68 billion in Iranian assets held by a financial institution in Luxembourg. Despite having few assets remaining the United States, courts have found Iran liable for the deaths and awarded billions in judgments against the Islamic state.
Protecting federal employee rescuers
Under current law, federal employees are prohibited from assisting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) efforts. Republican Sen. Rick Scott joined with Missouri Republicans Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt, as well as New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan to change the law.
Current law ensures that nonfederal employees participating in Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) task forces are provided certain federal protections from risks such as liability, personal injury, illness, disability or death. FEMA interprets the law to read federal employees are not provided with these explicit protections.
“During my time as Governor of Florida, my state experienced a number of devastating hurricanes that required quick action on the local, state and federal levels,” Scott said in a joint release.
“Search and rescue teams are a critical component of disaster recovery, and I’m proud to co-sponsor the National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act, which will give federal employees the ability to provide lifesaving help during times of crisis,” he added.
The National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act is the Senate companion bill to one sponsored by Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler which recently passed the House by voice vote.
Pence lauds trade deal
Pence visited Jacksonville to talk about U.S. trade and the need to “level the playing field.” He was joined by Jacksonville area members of Congress to talk about the benefits of the pending trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada (USMCA).
“Make no mistake about it: The USMCA is a win for Florida and a win for America,” Pence told the crowd. “We are not going to allow an outdated trade deal to hurt American manufacturers or American farmers any longer.”
The USMCA is a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Joining Pence at the America First Policies event was Scott, and Republican Reps. John Rutherford of Jacksonville and Michael Waltz of St. Augustine.
“NAFTA is 24 years old,” said Rutherford. “This USMCA is going to strengthen our economic ties,” he added, noting that it would open up North American markets to U.S. agricultural products, and would allow for enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Waltz raised the ongoing trade war issues with China and their acting as a “payday lender” to developing countries in the Western Hemisphere.
“They’ve done it with half the nations in central and South America … deeds to ports,” Waltz said. “They’re doing it in our backyard.”
Pence’s appearance was in conjunction with the beginning of a 26-city tour organized by America First Policies, led by Linda McMahon, the former head of the Small Business Administration. Following his remarks, Pence visited the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville to speak with military personnel.
Brown v. Board celebrated
May 17 marked the 65th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. The ruling meant government-sponsored segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
Hastings of Delray Beach tweeted:
In a landmark moment for the Civil Rights Movement, the #BrownvBoard US Supreme Court decision desegregated our schools & overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine. 65 years later, #BrownvBoard reminds us to never stop fighting until we achieve full racial equality & justice! pic.twitter.com/WKX8yBySDa
— Alcee L. Hastings (@RepHastingsFL) May 17, 2019
Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said via Twitter:
Sixty-five years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled that separate, but equal facilities were inherently unequal. #BrownvBoard set the stage for desegregation across all sectors of our society—but there is still much work to be done. We must never stop fighting for racial equality https://t.co/HsLtoS2YNB
— US Rep. Al Lawson Jr (@RepAlLawsonJr) May 17, 2019
In Florida, the change did not happen overnight as politicians sought to block or delay implementation of the court’s ruling. Today, others describe unequal educational opportunities due to failing schools in low-income neighborhoods.
“There will be no justice until every American has an equal shot at success,” tweeted Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. “House Democrats will not stop fighting until the promise of #BrownvBoard is fully delivered to every child in America.”
Equality Act clears House
The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act late last week. The bill would extend civil rights protections to LGBT people by preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The vote was 236-173 with eight Republicans joining all Democrats to support the measure. Among the eight was Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, but the majority Democrats were universally pleased to pass the legislation.
In a statement, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg said: “Today, we took a momentous step toward becoming a better, more equal America.” Deutch added, “I am proud of House Democrats for taking a step toward ending this discrimination by passing the Equality Act.”
Republicans argue the bill will lead to federal abortion funding and allow biological males to compete unfairly against females in athletic competition. Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont said while he believes everyone should be treated with respect, the Equality Act “does more to jeopardize women and already vulnerable populations in our society.”
It now heads to the Senate, where finding 60 votes will be difficult. Florida Democrats called on Scott and Rubio to support the bill.
Rep. Val Demings of Orlando tweeted:
We can't say we're a free country unless that freedom applies to everyone. If you can be discriminated against for being LGBTQ, you're not free.
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) May 17, 2019
Flynn contacted Gaetz
After former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn began cooperating with the Mueller investigation, he texted Gaetz urging the Fort Walton Beach Republican to “keep the pressure on.” Gaetz has been one of the leading critics of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of lawyers and investigators from the FBI.
Flynn, who is awaiting sentencing for lying to FBI investigators, proactively contacted Gaetz.
“You stay on top of what you’re doing,” Flynn wrote to Gaetz. “Your leadership is so vital for our country now. Keep the pressure on.”
The communication to Gaetz, to which the Florida lawmaker did not respond, came in April 2018, just four months after Flynn agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. Gaetz, who confirmed receipt of the texts, said he had no prior relationship either with Flynn or his son, Michael Flynn, Jr.
Flynn sent another text to Gaetz three months ago that simply contained images of a bald eagle and an American flag. Over the past year, Gaetz has called for Trump to pardon convicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and to commute the sentence of Flynn.
Blueberry farmers unhappy
Trade wars and tariffs can affect prices consumers pay, but it can cost business and industry until a truce is declared or victory comes to one side. Rep. Lawson of Tallahassee says Florida’s blueberry growers are paying a heavy price due to the tariffs Trump has laid on China.
For example, Bud Chiles, the son of former Governor and U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles, is making the case that the tariffs are hurting the agriculture industry. Chiles, a blueberry farmer, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried are fearful the tariffs could blow up a deal between Florida and China to export blueberries that was years in the making.
Trump levied the tariffs to get China, who enjoys a $500 billion-per-year trade surplus with the U.S., to make a deal more favorable to this country. Lawson is not sure that is worth it.
“The President is really doing some damage to the industry,” said Lawson, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee. “And I told several members I talked to today, I just don’t see how you can continue to support [Trump] because you’re destroying the Florida blueberry farmers.”
Despite the Trump administration’s payments to farmers to support them while trade negotiations with China continue, Chiles said that is not a good long term strategy.
“People don’t want a handout from the government, they just want to be able to compete,” Chiles said. “We just want to be able to compete.”
Politics of drug pricing
Except for the pharmaceutical industry, there is general agreement on Capitol Hill that prescription drug prices are becoming more difficult to obtain due to cost. Both Congress and Trump have sought ways to lower them, but even after a bill passed the House last week that would do that, price relief is still elusive.
Instead of passing a clean drug price bill last week, House Democrats lumped in a measure designed to strengthen “Obamacare,” a poison pill to Republicans. Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa was an original co-sponsor and among those celebrating passage of the bill by a mostly partisan 234-183 vote.
“Since the first day of the 116th Congress, I have led my Democratic colleagues in standing up for affordable health care and neighbors with pre-existing conditions — and in undoing the damage caused by the GOP,” Castor said in a news release.
“This week we passed the Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act, which combined those efforts with lowering prescription drug costs.”
Republicans said the folding of the “Obamacare” measure into the drug pricing bill provides evidence the majority was not interested in a bill. They claim their main desire was having the GOP take a painful vote.
“This is extremely frustrating because the American people cannot afford to wait for affordable medications while Congress plays petty political games,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor in an email to constituents. “I remain open to examining all serious bipartisan solutions for lowering costs, and hope that my colleagues will resume bipartisan efforts to solve this serious problem.”
By continuing a practice in which both parties engage, depending on who is in the majority, it all but ensures the bill will not receive serious consideration in the Senate.
Better service for vets
It is not easy to open a Congressional district field office in a veterans’ hospital facility, but two Floridians that have done so would like to remove red tape that prevents more from opening. Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City and Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee have introduced a bill to make it easier for their colleagues to do so.
Mast and Soto are sponsoring the Improving Veterans Access to Congressional Services Act which would instruct the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs to streamline the process if a member of Congress requests a field office inside a VA hospital. Mast was the first to do this when he opened an office in the West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Not long after, Soto opened one in the Lake Nona Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“Serving veterans in our community is not only deeply personal to me, it’s also the most frequent request that I get as a Member of Congress,” Mast said at a joint news conference with Soto. “Opening the first-ever Congressional office inside a VA hospital has allowed us to help veterans on the spot: when and where they’re having an issue.”
During the news conference held at the 65th Infantry Veterans Park in Kissimmee, both said that the offices have been essential to assisting veterans.
“At its core, this legislation is about helping our veterans,” Soto said. “Having Congressional offices located inside VA facilities allows for more efficient and easily accessible services provided to veterans who need it most. Almost half of our office’s constituent casework are veteran’s cases.”
The bill would also require the Department of Veterans Affairs to author regulations regarding the use of VA office space by members of Congress. There would be a mandate that space be made available during regular business hours and in an easily-accessible location for constituents.
‘Red flag’ bill filed
Keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals is a concept supported by both progressives and conservatives. Rep. Deutch is joining with a bipartisan group of House colleagues to file legislation that would help accomplish that goal.
The Boca Raton Democrat joined with Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, Indiana Republican Susan Brooks and Michigan Republican Fred Upton to file the Jack Laird Act of 2019. The bill would permit the confiscation of guns from individuals deemed a significant risk to public safety.
Florida passed a similar bill, known as a “red flag law,” last year following the mass shooting in Parkland on Valentine’s Day.
“Just last year, Florida and seven other states passed different versions of extreme risk protection order laws, giving law enforcement lifesaving tools to intervene when people may pose a threat to themselves or others,” Deutch said.
“When law enforcement investigates and finds a threat, they should be able to act to keep our communities safe. This gun safety policy has earned bipartisan support from across the country. Congress should encourage and support even more states to adopt this policy that has already proven to save lives.”
The bill is named after a red flag law passed in Indiana, honoring a police officer killed in the line of duty. Laird’s killer had his guns confiscated earlier, but no law existed allowing officials to keep them and they were subsequently returned with catastrophic results.
Deutch has been a national leader on combating gun violence.
Access to mammograms promoted
Mammograms are a vital part of the effort to prevent breast cancer, a disease projected to kill 40,000 Americans this year alone. To ensure as many women catch problems on time, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, a cancer survivor, joined with Indiana’s Brooks to reintroduce the Protecting Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act.
The PALS Act would postpone the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations that could severely limit women’s access to mammograms. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 10 percent of new fatal breast cancer fatalities are among women in their 40s.
The PALS Act protects access to annual mammograms with insurance coverage with no-copay starting at age 40 by extending the moratorium on the USPSTF breast cancer screening guidelines. It would also ensure that women veterans treated within the Veterans Health Administration system do not face these same obstacles to getting the care they and their health care providers deem necessary.
“The perception that breast cancer is something only older women need to worry about puts young women at risk of not getting a screening that could save their lives,” said Wasserman Schultz in a joint news release.
“The USPSTF guidelines would exacerbate this problem by discouraging women from getting potentially lifesaving mammograms and putting them at risk of losing insurance coverage for screenings.”
Brooks said, “Women of all ages are affected by breast cancer, and every woman should be able to access mammograms when they need them.”
DCCC touts Mucarsel-Powell
Democrats wasted no opportunity to tout the vote in the House to shore up “Obamacare” and lower prescription drug costs (see “Politics of drug pricing” above). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) took the opportunity to praise Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a new digital ad touting her vote and commitment to health care.
“DID YOU HEAR?!” the ad exclaims. “Rep. Mucarsel-Powell just voted to lower costs for health care and prescription drugs — and the bill PASSED! These heroic efforts to expand access to health care prove she’s fighting for our community. Yet another promise kept!”
Mucarsel-Powell is part of the DCCC’s Frontline program, which directs additional resources toward Democrats in competitive districts. She edged out former GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2018 by fewer than two points. Her focus on health care during the campaign was primarily credited for her success in flipping the seat.
“The American people have spoken loud and clear that they want Congress to get to work to lower the costs of prescription drugs and health care, and that’s just what Rep. Mucarsel-Powell is doing,” said Avery Jaffe, a DCCC spokesperson.
“Since coming to Congress, Mucarsel-Powell has been a tireless fighter on behalf of Floridians with pre-existing conditions and families facing skyrocketing prescription drug and medical bills, and the DCCC is proud to highlight her work,” he added.
On this day
May 21, 2009 — President Barack Obama and former Vice-President Dick Cheney gave dueling speeches on national security and Obama’s desire to close the Guantánamo Bay terrorist detention facility. Obama said during remarks at the National Archives that America “went off course” during the George W. Bush administration, referring to controversial terrorist interrogations and opening Guantánamo.
Cheney began his speech less than an hour later and only a mile away at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He argued the Bush administration kept America safe after 9/11 and said there is a “great dividing line between the approaches of the two administrations.”
Presidential scholars could not recall another time when current and former administrations publicly aired disagreements so soon into a new President’s term.
May 21, 2012 — Connie Mack IV’s U.S. Senate campaign sent letters seeking a federal investigation into the 2009 appointment of George LeMieux, Mack’s primary opponent, to a vacant U.S. Senate seat by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Mack’s action follows allegations LeMieux exerted pressure on Crist to get the appointment.
LeMieux described the accusations as “categorically false” with a spokeswoman adding “George put no pressure on the governor for the appointment and was honored to be interviewed and selected for the position.” Crist also denied the allegations.
Belated happy birthday to Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach (May 16) and Republican Rep. Greg Steube (May 19) of Sarasota.