It’s all about Florida
The opening acts of the 2020 campaign for President make it clear Florida is ground zero. President Donald Trump brought the point home by choosing Orlando for his official campaign launch earlier this week.
Months ago, Democrats chose Miami as the site of their first primary debates. Twenty candidates will participate in the two-night event slated for June 26 and 27.
The Trump campaign understands there is little to no chance of winning reelection if Florida’s 29 electoral votes go to his Democratic opponent. It is also personal with him.
“For all practical purposes, Florida is the president’s home,” said Susie Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign manager in 2016. “It has outsize importance to him personally.”
This week’s trip to Florida was also financially beneficial. Within the 24 hours surrounding his announcement, Trump’s campaign brought in a whopping total of nearly $25 million.
“Trump knows that he needs to take Florida to win in 2020,” tweeted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston on the day of Trump’s announcement. “We aren’t going to let that happen. Show up today to start the work to #DefeatTrumpFL:
Recent polling might indicate the President needs every dollar. A Quinnipiac University survey showed Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden 50-41 percent in the state, while each of the main Democratic contenders, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, along with Beto O’Rourke, also lead over the President.
“Florida Republicans have won the last five major statewide elections, all by very close margins, but Sunshine State Democrats see these very early numbers as a sign that their losing streak might be coming to an end,” said Peter Brown, the poll’s assistant director.
The nine-point difference comes as national polls are also showing 10 to 13-point gaps between the two.
Shortly after the Q-poll, another survey had the race much tighter. St. Pete Polls showed Biden with a one-half point lead over Trump. As the week drew to a close, Biden took criticism from his fellow Democratic competitors for praising former segregationist Senators.
Florida Republicans are all in for Trump, touting the economic record that the President will talk about on the campaign trail.
“I am proud to formally endorse President Donald J. Trump for reelection,” said Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville. “President Trump has been the driver of this incredible economy marked by historic unemployment numbers across all demographics and job growth across all sectors.”
This week in Florida belonged to Trump while next week belongs to 20 Democrats who want his job. Biden, the unquestioned front-runner, had better be ready for incoming fire from fellow Democrats.
Rubio’s rally attendance questioned
Among those attending the President’s launch rally was Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the several Republicans challenging Trump four years ago. His appearance was deemed odd by New York Times journalist Michael Barbaro, prompting a series of quick responses by Rubio.
“Very strange, for those of who covered 2016 campaign, to see Sen Marco Rubio smiling and chuckling in this audience,” Barbaro, host of the Times’ podcast ‘The Daily,’ tweeted.
It took Rubio less than an hour to fire back with a sarcastic tweet:
In an unprecedented move a Republican Senator attended a rally in his home state in support of the re-election of a Republican President. https://t.co/0zC3nvJB0X
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 19, 2019
Rubio added in another tweet that he attended the Trump rally instead of one “for a radical liberal” who represents positions he opposes. Despite Rubio’s current support for many of Trump’s policies, his caustic comments toward the eventual Republican nominee in 2015-16 came to mind, saying (among other things) Trump “couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in Florida.”
The second-term Senator also brought up Barbaro’s reporting from 2016, which revealed his wife’s traffic tickets, among other items.
Scott backs responders bill
The viral tongue-lashing foisted upon members of a House Judiciary subcommittee by comedian Jon Stewart called out those not attending the hearing on the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. Stewart called their absence “shameful.”
While this was a House committee, where empty chairs belonged to members of both parties, attention focused on the Senate and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This week, Sen. Rick Scott became the 10th Republican to sign on to the bill authorizing claims by all adults and affected children until 2090.
“I was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, and saw the terror and devastation inflicted on our nation,” Scott said in a written statement. “Americans around the world felt this attack. But for the survivors, first responders and families of the victims, the tragedy continues each and every day.”
The 9/11 fund reportedly has paid out $5 billion of the $7.3 billion in authorized funds. With more than 19,000 unaddressed claims, it is set to stop receiving applications late next year.
The House bill, which includes 18 bipartisan delegation co-sponsors, is set to sail through. Stewart and other critics point to McConnell as an impediment in the Senate.
McConnell said Stewart was “bent out of shape” for nothing. Stewart counted the Majority Leader could pass the bill as a stand-alone “tomorrow.”
GOP fretting polls
While some minimize the changing science of polling, Republicans are concerned about Trump’s numbers and his effect on other Republicans seeking election or reelection. This is especially true of swing states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Neither of Florida’s two Senators are up for reelection, making the necessity of carrying the state the primary goal. A Florida-based group feels Republicans have their work cut out for them.
Firehouse Strategies, a firm founded by former Rubio staffers, conducted a survey that found Trump trailing Biden in all three swing states by margins ranging between one and six points. Republicans are defending 22 Senate seats next year.
“Trump’s numbers are really sticky,” said Alex Conant, a partner at Firehouse Strategies and communications director for Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “It’s just going to be really hard for him to move his numbers up, and similarly it’s going to be hard for the Democrats to move his numbers down.”
More optimistic Republicans point to four occasions where a presidential election winner trailed by as many as 10 points at the same time Trump finds himself behind.
3 Floridians favor reparations
Earlier this week, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a well-covered hearing on the suggestion that descendants of slaves may be entitled to reparations. The foundation of the testimony was H.R. 40, a bill that would study how reparations might be administered.
The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act has 66 co-sponsors, including Florida Democrats Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.
The bill’s goal is to “establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”
The hearing coincided with the “Juneteenth” celebration, which marks the day in 1865 that Texas slaves became the last to learn of their freedom from the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Today is #Juneteenth, which marks the day the last slaves in the U.S. were freed in 1865,” tweeted Hastings. “Let us draw strength from past generations who inspired us to dream. We celebrate not only our freedom and achievements, but also recommit ourselves to the struggle for #EqualRights for all!”
A majority favoring reparations is far from certain in the House, but any bill would quickly die in the Senate if Sen. Mitch McConnell remains majority leader.
“I don’t think that reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea,” McConnell said. “We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president.”
Waltz supports more troops
Tensions with Iran are growing daily, especially with the shooting down of a U.S. drone by the rogue nation’s Revolutionary Guard. Trump said the Iranians “made a very big mistake” with their action.
Before the escalation, the Pentagon announced 1,000 additional troops would be dispatched to the region. Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine, a former Green Beret, thinks that is a good idea as the tensions continually escalate. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that Iran was responsible for the recent attack on two oil tankers.
“The troops [deployed] are being requested by the commander in the field in response to what the Iranians are doing, [which is] lashing out,” Waltz said during an appearance on Fox News. “What the Iranians are trying to do is to create leverage.”
Waltz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, dismissed the attempts of those who seek to shift the blame to Trump.
“That ignores the fact that Iran is supporting terrorism all over the region — in Syria, in Iraq and in Yemen,” Waltz said. “It’s developing a missile program in violation of U.N. sanctions and it’s holding Americans hostage as we speak.
He further supports aggressive, but responsible actions that would serve “as a deterrent and as a defensive measure.”
Murphy touts election security
With the slowly increasing calls among Democrats for impeaching Trump, there is little discussion involving other things contained in the Mueller report. Among those is Russian interference in the 2016 election, a subject on which there is virtually no disagreement on Capitol Hill.
Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy is among a group of moderate Democrats who wish to talk more about that aspect and less about impeachment. Murphy and the Blue Dog Caucus that she co-chairs is backing a series of election security bills that would address some of the problems encountered three years ago.
Murphy and her colleagues hope to work with Republicans to solve some of those problems.
“The fact is that Russian interference in our elections is the one thing there’s consensus around, and so we should work in a bipartisan way,” Murphy said.
Following the breach of voting systems in two Florida counties — and the FBI’s refusal to identify those counties — Murphy joined with Waltz to file a bill that would require public disclosure of any election security breach.
The Blue Dogs, comprised of more than two dozen members, was set to announce their strategy at a press briefing set for later in the week. Meanwhile, the number of Democrats favoring an impeachment inquiry has risen to 72, including Orlando Democrat Val Demings.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his caucus are looking to force votes on election security on a must-pass defense authorization bill next week, while criticizing Republicans for blocking their efforts.
Phone scam bill launched
Robocalls are getting increased attention on Capitol Hill recently. The TRACED Act, which seeks to crack down on illegal robocalls, has passed the Senate and is awaiting House action.
Another bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis, takes a different approach. The Ending one-Ring Scams Act would empower the Department of Justice to stop robocallers from defrauding consumers through malicious phone scams.
Bilirakis has joined with New York Democratic Rep. Yvette Clark, the bill’s sponsor, and four other bipartisan co-sponsors to move the bill forward. Bilirakis spoke for many frustrated with the calls.
“For some, they are more than a nuisance, as unsuspecting victims suffer financial harm,” he said. “Sadly, these bad actors target the elderly and most vulnerable for these crimes. Our bipartisan legislation will help protect the public from these tactics.”
The bill would have the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hold proceedings on scams and work with state and federal law enforcement to hold violators accountable. The FCC would also work with foreign governments to make attempts to stop these at an international level as well.
Also, the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would work together to educate consumers on how to avoid these scams and to incentivize voice service providers to stop calls made to perpetrate one-ring scams.
The TRACED Act is co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Al Lawson of Tallahassee in addition to Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key.
Agent Orange bill passes
Vietnam veterans were exposed to the devastating effects of the toxic chemical Agent Orange during their service 50 years ago. Thanks to action taken by Congress, all exposed are now eligible for government assistance.
Soldiers, sailors and Marines were eligible for benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, but sailors’ eligibility was discontinued in 2002 by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 restores the eligibility of Navy veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam and in ports during the war.
The legislation, with 333 House co-sponsors, including 20 Floridians, has now passed the House and Senate and is on its way to the President’s desk for signature.
“We are finally close to correcting a gross injustice where veterans are continually denied benefits they deserve,” said Buchanan, a co-sponsor. “These Navy veterans fought and sacrificed at sea just as their fellow soldiers did on land in Vietnam.”
A federal court decision in January stated that veterans who served offshore on ships during the Vietnam War should be eligible for Agent Orange benefits. However, many had urged passage of this bill as it remained unclear how the VA would interpret the court ruling and to codify this change into law.
The legislation, which received no dissenting votes in either chamber, was backed by several of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Military Veterans Advocacy and the Fleet Reserve Association.
Mast introduces PROTECT Act
One year after harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee caused environmental and health problems, a new bill in Congress seeks to reset priorities. The Prioritizing Revised Operations to Eliminate Cyanobacteria Toxins in Florida (PROTECT) Act, sponsored by Palm City Republican Brian Mast, would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider the health and safety of people downstream before releasing water.
In 2018, water discharged to our community tested more than 60x too toxic for human contact. We shouldn't tolerate mismanagement of FL's waterways that puts people’s lives at risk. Yesterday I introduced the PROTECT Florida Act to prioritize public health.https://t.co/04DXHMm9f9
— Rep. Brian Mast (@RepBrianMast) June 18, 2019
Mast’s bill is an updated version of the Stop Harmful Discharges Act he filed in September. The bill was gaining no traction.
Mast said some members of Congress did not like the fact the Corps would be required to make public health and safety the “number one issue” in managing lake levels.
“So, we changed the language of the bill to make our concern — preventing toxic algae blooms that harm people, animals, the ecosystem and the economy along the estuaries — into the mix,” Mast said. “It’s not the No. 1 priority, but it is a priority. And I think that’s fair.”
Rooney seeks continuous monitoring
As the rainy season arrives, another delegation member from the southern part of the state is concerned about another appearance of algal blooms in local waterways and the Gulf of Mexico. With the health and environmental risks present in such outbreaks, Naples Republican Francis Rooney has joined with Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur to require monitoring for Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) even if the government is shut down.
The legislation would require the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), which monitor waters for HABs, to continue forecasting and monitoring, even if a total or partial government shutdown is in progress.
“Over the last several years, Southwest Florida and the rest of the United States have been plagued by severe outbreaks of red tide,” Rooney said in a news release. “The most recent outbreak in the Gulf of Mexico lasted 16 months and generated over 2000 tons of dead sea life. In the midst of this outbreak, government shutdowns prevented NOAA’s satellites from monitoring red tide and publishing forecasts across the nation.”
This legislation further requires that web services and server processing for the HAB Operational Forecasting System (HABOFS) continue monitoring and remain online during a government shutdown.
“I look forward to supporting this legislation to rein in the spread of deadly algal blooms and thank Congressman Rooney for his leadership on this issue,” said Kaptur, who represents a district along Lake Erie with algal bloom problems.
Hastings tackles homelessness
A cause close to the heart of Hastings is the subject of a proposal to address chronic homelessness. The “Services for Ending Long-Term Homelessness Act” seeks to create a national strategy to combat the issue.
The legislation would also create matching grants for providing services that promote recovery and self-sufficiency. Performance outcome data would be provided to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“As we continue to prioritize ending homelessness in America, the unfortunate reality is that nearly 100,000 Americans remain chronically homeless,” Hastings said in a news release. “These Americans experience homelessness for longer than a year, or cycle in and out of homelessness due to disabling conditions.
“That is why I am introducing the Services for Ending Long-Term Homelessness Act, which will help overcome the challenges we face in alleviating the widespread problem of chronic homelessness across the country.”
Hastings, Chairman of the House Homeless Caucus, was joined in the legislation by fellow Democrats Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Barbara Lee of California and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.
Dems outline Venezuela strategy
With the presidential election entering a new phase, the talk of impeachment continuing and possible conflict with Iran growing more likely, the problems in Venezuela have seemingly moved to the back burner. It remains high on the priority list among the Florida delegation, especially those from South Florida.
Republicans such as Sen. Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, as well as Scott, have routinely blasted the regime of Nicolás Maduro, giving the GOP advantage on the issue. More recently, Democrats have staked out an anti-Maduro, pro-Venezuelan stance that is similar to the Republicans but delineates some differences.
Three area Democrats penned an op-ed in the Miami Herald stating what Democrats are for and becoming their party’s voice on the issue. While not criticizing the Trump administration’s actions so far, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami, and Donna Shalala of Coral Gables intimate the current strategy is not working and a “more strategic plan” is in order.
“To break the deadlock, the United States and the international community can put more pressure on the regime to facilitate a peaceful change in leadership, expose the corrupt networks that prop up the regime in Caracas, and meet the urgent, basic needs of the poor and hungry,” they wrote. “These efforts will help push the parties to achieve a peaceful transition that precludes none, even key Chavistasplayers, in promoting stability in the country.”
They proposed specific steps that include bringing allies together to further pressure Maduro’s network of support, provide aid to Venezuelans, and repeated the call to extend Temporary Protected Status to those who fled to the U.S. The lawmakers also urged that a strategy be developed for a post-Maduro Venezuela as the country begins to rebuild its infrastructure and economy.
On this day
June 21, 1989 — The United States Supreme Court ruled that burning the American flag is protected speech. While the decision came from a 5-4 majority, liberals joined with conservatives on both sides of the arguments.
Voting to allow flag burning were liberal justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, joined by moderates Harry Blackmun and Anthony Kennedy as well as conservative Antonin Scalia. Dissenters included Chief Justice William Rehnquist, moderates Sandra Day O’Connor and Byron White, along with liberal John Paul Stevens.
June 21, 2006 — Renewing the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years was supposed to be easy, but it was pulled from the floor at the last minute. Republicans objected to the provision requiring 9 states with a history of discrimination seek Justice Department approval before they can pass changes to election law.
The bill previously breezed through the House Judiciary Committee by a 33-1 vote. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed hope “the Republicans will be able to quickly resolve their differences and that the Congress will be able to pass this vital legislation.”
(NOTE: The bill passed the House one month later by a 390-33 vote with no amendments.)