Moderates force border vote
In a significant political week that featured the first two Democratic presidential debates and the final decisions from the Supreme Court’s 2018-19 term, some fierce political combat was fought over the southern border.
In the end, nearly $4.7 was approved to address the humanitarian crisis created by the surge of asylum-seekers and insufficient resources to confront the problem.
It was a long road to get there with each chamber passing their own bills and not wanting to accept what the other approved. Democratic moderates in the House, led by Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and a few colleagues, made the difference.
The struggle began earlier in the week when Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House leadership cobbled together a majority by adding restrictions on how the funds could be spent and reducing funds directed toward Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“With this supplemental appropriation, House Democrats are providing needed resources like legal assistance, food and medical services, while reversing Trump’s reckless decision to block assistance to Central American countries,” said Rep Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.
“We’re Americans; we must treat human beings like human beings, most especially the little ones,” said Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “I pray and hope that in the coming days, the Senate and the President will come to the same conclusion.”
The following day, the Senate voted down the House bill, then passed their own version with additional funds for the National Guard, Army and Air Force and ICE without the strict guidelines contained in the House bill. The vote on the legislation, l negotiated by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, was 84-8.
“Congress can no longer deny that this is a crisis, and I commend my Senate colleagues for taking meaningful action,” said Sen. Marco Rubio in a statement shortly after passage. “Unfortunately, House Democrats continue to pursue their partisan agenda, passing a bill that has no chance of becoming law.”
Pelosi and House leadership sought to keep progressives happy by reinserting several provisions into the Senate bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump said would not fly. McConnell described the Senate bill as “the only game in town.”
As talk centered on passing a revised House bill and sending it to the Senate, Murphy and other moderates began to make it clear they were ready to blow up that effort. Leadership could afford to lose only 18 votes, and it became apparent, there were more than that in opposition.
“The Senate Bill is a good, bipartisan bill that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate,” said Murphy, co-chair of the moderate, 27-member Blue Dog Coalition. “The House needs to take up the Senate bill and pass it and get money to the border.”
With such a large bipartisan majority in the Senate, the House leadership’s position became untenable, forcing capitulation. The final vote was 305-102 with the only delegation “no” votes coming from Democratic Reps. Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami.
The bill now heads to Trump’s desk for signature while Congress heads home for the July 4 recess.
A bill launched during the last term of Congress that was designed to help small businesses, is back for another try. Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown have refiled the Small Business Lending Fairness Act to protect small businesses from predatory lenders.
The bill codifies the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 1985 ban on confessions of judgment and extends it to include small business borrowers. Confessions of judgment require a borrower to give up his or her rights in court before obtaining a loan, and allows the lender to seize the borrower’s assets, without warning, to satisfy the debt.
“With this bill, we are taking another step toward protecting America’s small businesses — the foundation of our economy — by preserving the right of a business to be heard in a court of law before a potential credit default,” Rubio said. “I remain committed to protecting our small businesses from predatory, out-of-state lenders, and I hope my colleagues will join me in this effort.”
Although many states have banned this practice for small business loans as well as individuals, borrowers nationwide are still exposed due to loopholes in state laws that have allowed predators to devastate small businesses across the country. The Small Business Lending Fairness Act provides small businesses with the same federal protections that consumers already have nationally.
“When we let financial predators harm hardworking Americans through scams like confessions of judgment, we undermine the dignity of work,” Brown said.
Rubio is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship while Brown is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
Scott: Rays should stay
Last week, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg shocked the area by revealing a scenario that would possibly allow the team to play half of each season in Montreal. Sternberg cited the difficulty of making ends meet in the Tampa Bay area with low attendance and no prospect for a new stadium on the horizon.
That is a bad idea in the eyes of Sen. Rick Scott. Despite the Rays receiving the go-ahead by Major League Baseball (MLB) to develop a formal plan, Scott says the team should “spend all of their time in Tampa.”
“Look, Montreal is a beautiful city,” Scott told TMZ. “I’ve enjoyed the times I’ve had the opportunity to visit there. But I hope Tampa spends all their time in Florida.”
Scott has some experience in professional baseball, serving as co-owner of the Texas Rangers when George W. Bush had controlling interest in the team.
The Rays are committed to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season, according to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. A source told MLB.com that the team views 2024 as the earliest possible date for a potential split season between ballparks.
Montreal was home to the Expos from 1969 until 2004 when the team moved to Washington, D.C. due to low attendance.
Scott backer fined
A Florida company favoring the Senate campaign of then-Gov. Scott was recently fined $9,500 by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for an illegal campaign contribution. Ring Power Corp. donated $50,000 to the New Republican PAC, which invested millions in the effort to defeat then-Sen. Bill Nelson in November.
As a federal contractor, Ring Power is prohibited from contributing to federal elections. The FEC determined the New Republican PAC did not knowingly solicit a contribution from a federal contractor, which would have been another violation.
The contribution was returned after the filing of a complaint.
Among the $34 million raised by the PAC in the 2018 cycle, it spent $29.5 million against Nelson. They also targeted California Democratic House candidate Katie Porter, but their $967,000 investment was not enough to keep Porter from unseating Republican incumbent Mimi Walters.
SCOTUS issues big decisions
As the U.S. Supreme Court wound down the 2018-19 term, they handed down two huge decisions that left both sides claiming victory on one case and lamenting a defeat on the other. Both were 5-4 decisions with Chief Justice John Roberts serving as the swing vote on both.
In Rucho et al. v. Common Cause et al., the court ruled that federal courts cannot decide partisan gerrymandering disputes. Writing for the majority, Roberts said: “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”
In another highly anticipated case, the justices effectively blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census forms. The court again handed down a 5-4 ruling in Department of Commerce et al. v. New York et al. with Roberts again writing the opinion for the majority.
The latter case gave Democratic members of the delegation something to celebrate.
Victory! Ill-intended citizenship question is blocked. SCOTUS makes clear once again in US Constitution #EveryoneCounts.
— US Rep. Darren Soto (@RepDarrenSoto) June 27, 2019
In another tweet, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston took aim at Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
The #SCOTUS decision does not preclude a misguided citizenship question from being added to the #2020Census – but it confirmed that @SecretaryRoss has been lying about why the Trump administration wants to add a citizenship question. pic.twitter.com/z66CEpErVb
— Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) June 27, 2019
The court did not close the door on adding the citizenship question but required more coherent reasoning for adding it. Census forms are due to be printed within two months.
Second quarter fundraising ends
This week marks the end of the second quarter for federal fundraising with some recent trends continuing and the unveiling of a Republican effort to close a glaring gap. Both parties will have good news to report.
Through May, the Republican National Committee (RNC) was outraising the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by a nearly two-to-one margin and had $37 million in the bank with no debt. The DNC had $8.2 million cash on hand with $5.9 million in debt.
The Republican National Senatorial Committee (NRSC) was outraising the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) by $28-22 million through May. However, the DSCC had $13 million in the bank with no debt, while the NRSC had $11 million cash on hand, but a $6 million debt.
The latest available reports reveal the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) continued recent trends of outraising the National Republican Congressional Committee by $14 million through May. The NRCC held a $3 million advantage of cash on hand while neither committee reported any debt.
One of the reasons Democrats were able to capture the House in 2018 was the avalanche of money raised through their national Act Blue website. The fundraising success continues into the 2020 cycle with nearly $175 million already raised in the first quarter.
Republicans are trying to play catch up and this week announced the launch of WinRed, which is also designed to raise significant sums online and direct resources toward key races. The GOP will have a lot of catching up to do.
That dog won’t hunt
Prominent Trump backers who travel to Palm Beach County can often be found speaking at events hosted by the Palm Beach Kennel Club. There is no bigger backer of Trump in Congress than Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, but he has not been invited to be part of any program at the club, which obviously stems from his position on certain issues.
“I don’t know what those issues are, but I assume it may have to do with my advocacy for the greyhound amendment overwhelmingly passed by Florida voters,” Gaetz said.
The amendment, which ultimately looked to end dog racing and supported by Gaetz, passed statewide with 69 percent of the vote. In Palm Beach County specifically, the measure passed at nearly 74 percent.
The club is run by the Rooney family, Pat Rooney, Sr. and Pat Rooney, Jr., with whom Gaetz served in the Florida House. Another family member, former U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, served with Gaetz in the U.S. House until declining to run for reelection last year.
An invitation to visit the club by Larry Snowden, a prominent member, ultimately met with an objection from the club. The visit did not happen, but Gaetz is holding no grudges.
“I consider myself close with the Rooney family,” Gaetz said. “Certainly, I don’t blame the Rooneys for the construct of dog racing.”
Limiting Trump tariff authority
Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration remain the subject of heavy criticism from Congressional Democrats, who want Congress to have a greater say in their implementation. Murphy has introduced the Reclaiming Congressional Trade Authority Act, which would limit any new or additional tariffs imposed on national security grounds to 120 days unless approved by Congress first.
A companion bill in the Senate was filed by Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine.
The bill would increase the role that Congress plays in nonnational security tariffs. Also, the administration would be required to provide Congress with goals and plans behind any potential tariff actions. Congress would have the authority to block tariffs through a joint resolution of disapproval, which would be subject to a presidential veto.
“The time has come for Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority over trade,” Murphy said in a news release. “Imposing tariffs without a concrete strategy is harming American families, consumers and businesses and it’s undermining long-standing relationships with our allies.
“The branch of government that is closest to the people needs to have a say in these potentially destabilizing decisions. Working families should not have to pay the price for the president’s reckless use of this tariff authority.”
With American farmers and retailers feeling some effects of the tariffs imposed on China, the bill gained the endorsement of several national retail organizations, including the National Retail Federation (NRF).
Demings to be honored
The Multicultural Media Correspondents Association (MMCA), an advocacy organization leading a national call to action to increase media diversity, has announced it will honor four prominent individuals at their annual dinner. One of the honorees is a member of the Florida delegation.
Orlando Democrat Val Demings will be one of the honorees at the 4th Annual Multicultural Media Correspondents Dinner (MMCDTM) to be held July 9 at the National Press Club. Demings will share the stage with nationally-syndicated radio host Tom Joyner, Washington, D.C. news anchor Eun Yang, and H Code founder and CEO Parker Morse.
Demings is the chair of the Media Diversity Congressional Braintrust, which is intended to get members of Congress more involved in promoting greater media representation among people of color.
“The American media industry continues to struggle with both racial and gender diversity — a critical shortcoming for an industry which accounts for almost 20 percent of the U.S. GDP and influences our culture, our future, and our understanding of ourselves as a society,” Demings recently wrote to colleagues. “These shortcomings are stark when you consider that people of color are a large and growing segment of the U.S. population.”
The following day, the MMCA will hold the first Media Diversity Innovation Summit at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center with Demings serving as honorary host.
Crist, Bilirakis team up
Hurricane Michael was the most recent example of homes and businesses being destroyed, leaving residents and owners in dire straits. Crist, Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis and others have introduced the Shelter Act to help victims cope with such disasters.
The bill is designed to protect homes or businesses in the event of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters. The ACT would create a disaster mitigation tax credit for families and business owners in disaster-prone areas.
“For working families who own homes and businesses, a natural disaster can leave their lives and livelihoods literally in pieces,” Crist said in a joint release. “This bipartisan legislation puts power back into the hands of the people, rewarding small businesses and homeowners who prepare for the unexpected and invest in protecting their property from hurricanes, floods and everything in between.”
Despite hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent on disaster recovery each year, there are currently no federal tax incentives to encourage mitigation. The ACT allows for a 25 percent write off for qualifying expenses with a limit of $5,000 per taxpayer.
“Disaster can strike at any time, often with little warning,” Bilirakis said. “It’s never too early to prepare. Taking steps now to reinforce a roof covering, or protect an exterior window, could mean the difference between saving money in the long run and dealing with major property damage.”
Eligible properties include homes or businesses in or adjacent to an area that the federal government has declared a disaster within the last 10 years. This also applies to those who rent property in these areas.
The Shelter Act is supported by BuildStrong Coalition, Federal Alliance for Safer Homes, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, National Association of Home Builders, National Ready Mix Concrete Association, National Realtors Association, The Smarter Safer Coalition, and The Home Depot.
Preempting Iran strikes
Some in Congress fear Trump is provoking Iran into a conflict. In addition to seeking to clarify the President’s authority to launch any attacks, an effort to prevent the administration from attacking the radical state is already underway.
An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), proposed by Gaetz and California Democrat Ro Khanna would prohibit the use of federal funds for military force against Iran. Sarasota Republican Greg Steube blasted his House colleagues.
“It is sad that some of my colleagues seek to undermine the president’s authority with an amendment that protects the Ayatollah instead of our nation’s security interests,” Steube said in a release. “I lost Brothers and sisters in arms during my service in Operation Iraqi Freedom thanks to Iranian improvised explosive devices, and we cannot sit by as these state sponsors of terror try to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody wants war with Iran, but a distinction between war and protecting American interests in the region must be made.”
On another front, Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and New York Democrat Eliot Engel are seeking the analysis from the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations and possible military action against Iran. In a letter to acting State Department Legal Adviser Marik String, the lawmakers wish to make clear Congress has not authorized a strike against the rogue regime.
Given the life-or-death stakes of the current situation between the United States and Iran, we can think of no issue where it is more imperative for the Department to explain its rationale for and interpretation of the legal authorities that have been provided by the Congress, a coequal branch of government that the Constitution vests with the sole power to declare war,” they wrote.”
Engel is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, while Deutch chairs the subcommittee overseeing policy in the Middle East, North Africa and terrorism.
Recovering American hostages
The status and recovery of hostages abroad is a focus of several members of Congress. With a constituent believed held for more than a decade, it is somewhat personal for Deutch.
Deutch, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, is working with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire to promote strengthening U.S. foreign policy of recovering hostages held abroad.
The lawmakers commented after the release of the first report from the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation on government policy. Among other things, the report called for “more honesty and transparency from government officials.”
“Our government must prioritize bringing American hostages and detainees home and offering our unwavering support to their families,” Deutch said in a joint release. “This report brings to light the important perspective of the families who have to face these challenges every day, including the family of my constituent Bob Levinson who has been missing for over 12 years. For them, I’m committed to finding solutions to bring their loved ones home and end their nightmares.”
The foundation is named after the journalist captured and murdered by ISIS terrorists in Syria. Foley was a resident of New Hampshire and a constituent of Shaheen.
“Any time an American citizen is held against their will, it demands the attention of the United States government,” Shaheen said. “That includes support for hostages’ families as they experience immense fear and uncertainty. The harrowing and tragic murder of James Foley reminds us of what’s at stake and that ensuring the safety of Americans, and support for their families, must be a top U.S. policy priority.”
Still no evacuation plan?
Though federal officials overseeing the Homestead youth detention center insist there is an evacuation plan in case of a hurricane, Mucarsel-Powell is not convinced. The first-term lawmaker has been asking to see such a plan, but has not been provided with many details.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the facility, said in an email to Mucarsel-Powell that a private contractor running the facility is “required” to have plans for a range of emergencies. She has received an email with bullet points summarizing hurricane evacuation procedures.
HHS said it is working to “validate that plan” with Comprehensive Health Services, which has held a multimillion-dollar contract with the agency since February 2018. It is also working to ensure there is adequate space at the “identified evacuation site” because the number of migrant children at the shelter continues to grow.
Mucarsel-Powell, who has called for the closing of the Homestead facility due to “prison-like conditions,” has made several trips to check on conditions. She also invited those Democratic candidates in Miami for the presidential debates, to visit.
Dems top GOP again
For the third straight year, Democrats won the annual Congressional Baseball Game, this time by a score of 14-7. Republicans held out some hope of breaking through into the win column with the addition of some new talent, including Steube.
It was competitive for a while, but poor GOP defense and solid hitting by Democrats put the game out of reach in the late stages. Steube was the starting pitcher for Republicans and struck out six but was victimized by timely hitting and four errors behind him.
The freshman from Sarasota also added two hits and drove in four runs, but it was not enough to overcome the solid pitching and hitting from Louisiana Democrat Cedric Richmond, the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Also on the GOP roster was Rep. John Rutherford from Jacksonville. No Florida Democrat signed up to play.
In addition to the Democratic squad, another winner was the Congressional Sports for Charity Foundation. The game generated $1.3 million for the group, which supports charities for children and families in the Washington, D.C. area.
On this day
June 28, 2007 — The Senate was unable to get a bipartisan immigration bill to a final vote, effectively killing a top priority of President George W. Bush. The bill, deemed “amnesty” by several conservatives, fell 14 votes short of overcoming a filibuster, helped by one-third of Senate Democrats who voted against moving it to the floor.
Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, who helped shape the bill, was deeply disappointed in the outcome. He said “I will do what I can” to help shape responsible policy, but “the burden has shifted to others” to see what they can propose and enact.
June 28, 2012 — In one of the most highly anticipated Supreme Court rulings in years, the court upheld the validity of the Affordable Care Act by a 5-4 vote. Chief Justice John Roberts, an appointee of former President George W. Bush shocked conservatives and liberals alike by siding with the court’s four liberal justices.
Writing for the majority, Roberts said the federal government had the power to tax those who do not carry health insurance, upholding the law’s foundation. Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV, who challenged Sen. Bill Nelson that November, said: “My first reaction to the decision by the Supreme Court, I’m angry and in disbelief,” noting he had recently “filed repeal legislation.”