Campaign enters next phase
Miami will be the venue for the first debates for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination. Candidates will learn this week who among the many hopefuls will qualify to take the stage on either June 26 or 27.
Nearly two dozen candidates are looking for ways to stand out. Some policy positions, combined with harsh descriptions of President Donald Trump will be the order of the day.
The campaign is a complete role reversal from 2016 when it was Republicans searching for a nominee from a crowded field.
On June 16, 2015, Trump made it official that he was running for President of the United States. Skepticism would be a mild word when describing the reaction from analysts and large swathes of the Democratic and Republican Party.
He was one of 17 candidates that sought the nomination and was expected to be a somewhat early casualty. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who officially jumped in just before Trump, was the favorite to emerge from the pack.
During a debate, Bush said what many Republicans were thinking when he said, “Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.”
The world discovered Bush (and most of the GOP) was wrong. While not possessing a likability factor, Trump’s focus on immigration and populist nationalism was a winner in the primaries and enough states to earn an Electoral College victory.
Now it is the Democrats’ turn.
Those who stand out will see their fundraising surge while picking up endorsements. For those who struggle or appear to stand no chance of beating Trump, will see their money and their candidacies wither exponentially.
Delegation Democrats have mostly kept their options open. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden just before the widely-panned reversal of his position on federal funding of abortions.
At the time, Lawson said: “They don’t make ‘em like Joe anymore.”
Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy endorsed former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke soon after he announced.
The nominee should be apparent nine months from now following Super Tuesday. Whoever emerges will need to raise staggering sums of money from multiple sources.
With the Democratic National Committee (DNC) not in a position to offer the help the Republican National Committee (RNC) can provide to Trump, the outside money is crucial. As of April 30, the RNC had $34.7 million cash on hand with no debt, and the DNC had $7.6 cash on hand with $6.2 million of debt.
With candidates holding campaign stops in Florida before and after the debates, the state is about to start the next phase of the 2020 campaign.
Lower drug prices sought
Most Americans agree that lower prescription drug prices would be a good thing. Finding ways to accomplish that goal is the mission of 8 GOP Senators led by Sen. Rick Scott.
Scott and his colleagues, which includes Sen. Marco Rubio, are seeking answers from various sources, including the pharmaceutical industry. In a letter to Stephen J. Ubl, President and CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Senators ask for the industry’s help in changing the system, which would lead to lower prices.
“We cannot understand why Americans pay two to six times more than the rest of the world for brand name prescription drugs or why the U.S. comprised 42 percent of global pharmaceutical revenues based on 2016 data,” they wrote. “American consumers should not be subsidizing European countries so they can keep prices low for their consumers. The system needs to change.”
While the Republicans are seeking a cooperative approach from the industry, Democrats are pursuing a more confrontational approach. They favor legislation lowering drug prices no matter what the drug companies want.
Members of both parties agree that transparency in drug pricing would be a step in the right direction. In March, Scott introduced the Transparent Drug Pricing Act with Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley signing on as the original co-sponsor.
In late March, Trump asked Scott to lead GOP efforts in health care policy.
Engaging the Northern Triangle
Methods to address the migration at the border continue to divide Congress, but Rep. Ted Yoho, a Gainesville Republican, hopes there can be bipartisan agreement on addressing the cause of a crisis there. He introduced a new resolution this week along with New Jersey Democratic Rep. Albio Sires promising U.S. engagement with nations in the Northern Triangle.
“The United States is currently experiencing an unprecedented flow of migrants to our southern border, making it crucial that we address the root causes of migration from countries in the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — in addition to securing our borders,” Yoho said.
“By continuing to engage with Northern Triangle countries, we can reduce the amount of violence, poverty, and food insecurity in these countries which are ultimately the direct drivers of the migration crisis at our own border. We cannot continue the foreign aid policies of the past that have failed to significantly improve the situations in these countries. We must move from aid to trade by investing in infrastructure that spurs economic development and creates strong trade relationships by utilizing programs like the new International Development Finance Corporation.”
Sires said U.S. support for programs in the Central American area helped reduce violence, malnutrition and unemployment. “Aid cuts to Northern Triangle countries will only worsen the root causes of migration by defunding those programs that mitigate the push factor forcing people to migrate northward,” Sires said.
The Representatives noted 56 percent of those apprehended crossing the border originate from the three Northern Triangle countries.
Road funding plan proposed
Congress and the White House have both talked about the need to confront infrastructure issues throughout the country, but personalities have prevented any progress. Despite this, St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz is focused on U.S. highways and bridges.
Much of the surface transportation system is funded by a gasoline tax of 18 cents per gallon. Waltz believes there is a more efficient, and fairer, way to maintain this vital portion of the American way of life.
Waltz supports a system where the gasoline tax would give way to a user system, where those using the roads the most would pay more. While truckers would likely oppose such a system, the casual driver would probably save in the end.
“We really need help here, and what I’m hoping to see is for us to move away from the gas tax and toward a system of user fees based on vehicle miles of travel,” Waltz said. “Those that use the roads and use the interstates more, trucking and industrial, it’s basically pay-as-you-go.”
While discussions are in the early stages, the dramatic change will be difficult to achieve in the near term. All agree that funding to address what is estimated as a $1.1 trillion infrastructure need must be found within the next decade.
Zika prevention passes
Mosquitoes are not only a nuisance, but they can also facilitate the spread of disease. Florida was reminded of that fact in 2016 with the Zika virus outbreak. Rubio and Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee were leaders in the effort to combat the outbreak.
During the first week of the 116th Congress, Soto introduced the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act. The bill was designed to combat the future spread of the virus by studying its impact and promoting prevention.
The SMASH Act was rolled into the Senate version of the bill called the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019. Last week the bill passed both the House and Senate and was on the way to the President’s desk for signature.
“We’re incredibly proud this bipartisan legislation passed in Congress and now urge President Trump to promptly sign this bill into law,” Soto stated in a news release. “Infectious diseases caused by mosquitoes, like Zika and West Nile virus, continue to be a growing threat to public health.”
Designation for Pulse
Days before the third anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Central Florida congressman appeared at the site of the former gay club to lay out a plan to make it an independent National Memorial. Soto and Stephanie Murphy, both Orlando Democrats, spoke about the matter at a news conference at the Pulse memorial.
“We have tremendous support as you see here today in this community; people who remember not only the tragedy that happened but our how our community came together for the families, for the victims and to overcome hate. This wasn’t just a local tragedy. This was a world tragedy,” said Soto, the bill’s primary sponsor.
Val Demings, another Orlando Democrat, will also sponsor the legislation and voiced her support online. She noted the bill was being introduced during Pride Month, a significant gesture considering the bulk of the 49 individuals killed at the nightclub were LGBTQ.
Murphy reminded Pulse remains the place where the most significant attack on the marginalized community has taken place in the United States.
“This is the site of the largest ACT of violence against the LGBTQ community, and it is also the deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11. I believe this community, in the aftermath of that tragedy, demonstrated to our country and the world how to come together against hate,” she said.
A shooter swearing allegiance to ISIS killed 49 people June 12, 2016, before being gunned down by police.
Dems question deficit spending
As Republicans argued among themselves last week over imposing tariffs on Mexico, moderate Democrats have again questioned their leadership on a high profile bill. Members of the House Blue Dog Coalition are raising questions not about the contents of the bill, but how it passed.
To much fanfare, the House passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, by a mostly partisan vote of 237-187. To get there, the Democratic caucus had to waive their own “Pay-As-You-Go” (PAYGO) restraints on a bill projected to have a $35 billion impact on the budget.
In a letter co-written by Winter Park Democrat Murphy, the Blue Dog Coalition, of which she is a co-chair, wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer questioning the decision to waive PAYGO.
Without mentioning the bill by name, the letter makes the case that the U.S. will soon be spending more on interest on the national debt, than on supporting children.
“That means we will soon spend more on our past than we will be investing in our future,” they wrote. “The least Congress can do is to prevent the problem from getting worse, and PAYGO does just that.”
Florida’s other member of the coalition, Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, also signed the letter. Murphy, Crist and all Democrats ultimately voted for the bill, but Murphy remains concerned about the growing debt.
“Obviously we have concerns about waiving PAYGO, and certainly, we hope that this is not a slippery slope,” Murphy told POLITICO.
Going down the slippery slope is unlikely following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement the bill will probably not receive a vote.
Pinellas Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis threw his support this week to an effort to track and highlight toxic exposure-related illnesses for veterans. The Toxic Exposures in the American Military coalition will focus specifically on health impairments related to recent wars.
Bilirakis, who has been involved with Veterans Affairs reforms in the past, promised to support this effort as well.
It is wonderful to see these groups joining forces to fight for Vets exposed to toxins during their service. I look forward to working with them. A special thank you to our own Lauren Price for helping to spearhead this joint nationwide initiative. https://t.co/OASAxTiYHV
— Gus Bilirakis (@RepGusBilirakis) June 10, 2019
“It is wonderful to see these groups joining forces to fight for Vets exposed to toxins during their service,” he said on Twitter. “I look forward to working with them. A special thank you to our own Lauren Price for helping to spearhead this joint nationwide initiative.”
Price, a Tampa Bay area veteran’s advocate, worked closely with Bilirakis office in the past, including helping with a bill passed last year that empowered veterans with a stronger voice in their own health care decision-making and improves access to providers within the communities in which they live. In June 2018, Bilirakis’ office said the newly signed legislation would extend choices for veterans who served post-9/11.
The new legislative push comes on the heels of the Department of Justice electing not to appeal a federal ruling awarding presumptive disability status to 90,000 “blue water” Vietnam veterans serving on ships during the conflict there decades ago, as reported by the Military Times.
Help for struggling performers
Initial reactions to a proposed tax break for musicians and actors would likely range from anger to incredulity. Why would rich performers need tax breaks? Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key has a reasonable explanation.
A small percentage of performers are in the category of Bradley Cooper or Lady Gaga. Instead, the vast majority are lower or middle-income performers working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Buchanan, along with California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu recently filed legislation to update the tax code that gives breaks to those performers earning less than $16,000. Buchanan and Chu are proposing raising the Qualified Performing Artist provision to $100,000.
“The overwhelming majority of performing artists are lower-income and middle-class Americans struggling to make ends meet,” Buchanan said in a statement. “Congresswoman Chu and I are fighting to update this 30-year-old law to deliver needed tax relief for performing artists in Southwest Florida and elsewhere.”
The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists estimates that 75 percent of performing artists stand to benefit from the bipartisan legislation. Chu said that struggling performers spend up to 30 percent of their annual income on travel or materials to look for work.
“I know firsthand that our performing arts institutions and local talented performers are a tremendous asset in our community,” Buchanan said. “This bipartisan legislation would help those creative workers unable to deduct expenses that relate directly to their employment and livelihoods.”
Deutch responds to constituents
At a town hall last week, Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch began by fielding questions on impeachment, but he also had the opportunity to talk about issues of direct importance to his Democratic-leaning district. Gun control, anti-Semitism, Dreamers, immigration, and oil drilling were among those topics covered.
Impeachment was at the top of the list of issues constituents wished to discuss. Most seemed to hold the view Trump should be impeached now.
Deutch told attendees the House Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, “will lay out the facts for the American people, and we will hold President Trump accountable.” Despite the mood of attendees to impeach Trump, his call for caution was seemingly well-taken.
He ticked off the bills passed by the Democratic-led House that covers background checks for firearms, a path to citizenship for Dreamers, fair elections, LGBTQ equality and dealing with climate change. The list of House accomplishments drew applause from those in attendance.
Then, Deutch mentioned McConnell, who is bottling up the House legislation. The cheers turned to boos.
Not all attendees were progressive. One suggested building the border wall would fix the immigration crisis that has developed on the Southern border.
“I appreciate the simplicity of the suggestion,” Deutch responded, adding that the most significant source of illegal immigration comes from those overstaying their visas.
About 200 attended the event in Oakland Park.
Floridian on Floridian attack
Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell turned her political ire on a fellow Floridian serving in the Trump administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. She called for the Cabinet member’s resignation days after the federal government cut funding aimed at education, legal services and recreation for detained migrant children.
“The Trump Administration’s immigration policies have broken down our government’s moral fabric when responding to a humanitarian crisis,” Mucarsel-Powell said.
“By enforcing these disastrous policies, the Department of Health and Human Services under the leadership of Secretary Alex M. Azar has proved it cannot be a trusted caretaker for children and minors in its custody. For these reasons, Secretary Azar must resign.”
The cuts come as an overflow of puts more pressure on American detention centers, including one in Homestead. “Our immigration crisis has only worsened,” Mucarsel-Powell said.
Shalala pooh poohs drug import plan
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former member of the Delegation, has championed reducing pharmaceutical costs by importing drugs from Canada. But Miami Democrat Donna Shalala, a former Health and Human Services Secretary under President Bill Clinton, scoffed at the plan.
“It is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” she said Saturday. “It’s just messaging.”
She spoke at a news conference about the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion in Florida, but headlines for trashing importation.
In Washington, Trump has instructed current Health and Human Services Secretary, Azar, to work with Florida on implementation of a plan, but Shalala predicted Azar would not approve the arrangement. The department’s key agencies all oppose such imports.
“No HHS Secretary has ever approved the importation of drugs because of safety,” Shalala said. “The law is written this way: The HHS Secretary, which I was one, some time ago, has to certify that it is safe to do importation. And so I would be very surprised if Secretary Azar was willing to do that, if his FDA commissioner, as mine did, if his NIH Director, if his Surgeon General said, ‘Yes, it’s going to be safe for Floridians.’”
She said that’s why she told Clinton back in the day not to do it, despite pressure from the president at the time.
On this day
June 11, 1984 — Police and prosecutors won a significant legal victory when the Supreme Court allowed illegally obtained evidence to be used against defendants if it “ultimately or inevitably” would have been discovered by lawful methods. The court handed down 7-2 decisions with liberal justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissenting.
Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote the opinion for the majority. Burger reasoned that while prosecutors should not be able to gain from the new standard, the prosecution’s position should not be worsened because of some police blunders or misconduct.
June 11, 2008 — Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean urged House Democrats to remember why they were given the majority in 2006. It was not to impeach President George W. Bush, he said.
Dean was responding to questions concerning articles of impeachment introduced by Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and signed by Boynton Beach Democrat Robert Wexler. Dean said Americans “hired us in 2006 because they did not like the direction that the country was going in. They didn’t send us here to impeach the President.”
When Waltz wasn’t working on road funding, he was leaping from an airplane. In recognition of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the military vet donned a jumpsuit and participated in a re-enactment of the storming of Normandy.
“I had the honor of jumping out of one of the original planes the led the 101st Airborne invasion, the C-47 Dakota, so that in itself was incredible,” Waltz told ABC News. “It was the No. 1 plane.”
Waltz and Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, were the only members of Congress to take part of the mock event at Omaha Beach. The two were among hundreds of veterans who flew to France to take part in the leap. Some of the re-enactors were as old as 97, according to a release from Waltz’s office.
The original storming of Normandy took place June 6, 1944.
Waltz took live video fro his perspective as he leaped from the plane and floated slowly to the earth below.” This is where our forefathers landed, right here,” he said as he panned the camera around the landing site. “Look at people waving the French flag, the American flag. I just can’t put myself in their shoes, 75 years ago this week.
“What an honor, man. What a great jump. I’m speechless.”