GOP bucking Trump deals
Last week’s G-20 summit held in Osaka, Japan generated a lot of worldwide news coverage. Anything involving President Donald Trump usually does, but Florida Democrats have either been subdued or restrained following some of the summit’s most significant moments.
The President’s first big private meeting involved a sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While it is possible something substantive took place, all that will be remembered is Trump’s response to a reporter’s question as to whether he would talk to Putin about meddling in American elections.
When Trump turned to Putin and somewhat sarcastically said “don’t meddle,” the reaction was swift throughout the media and some national Democrats, but the Twitterverse within the Florida borders was tweeting about other things.
Trump later met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss the ongoing trade war with both countries then later announcing a resumption of trade talks. The President reportedly agreed to ease sanctions on Chinese communications giant Huawei by allowing American companies to sell their equipment to Huawei.
The company is perceived as a national security threat on Capitol Hill as well as by some in the Trump administration. Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, were quick to respond to the news by vowing to pass legislation to block the move.
If President Trump has in fact bargained away the recent restrictions on #Huawei, then we will have to get those restrictions put back in place through legislation.
And it will pass with a large veto proof majority.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 29, 2019
Sen. Rick Scott shared Rubio’s concern with any deal that would put Huawei back in business.
China is not our friend; they are our adversary. I applaud @realDonaldTrump for his efforts to work out a fair deal for America.
But Huawei is non-negotiable. Huawei is a national security threat to the U.S. and our allies. (1/3)
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) June 30, 2019
From there, it was off to a surprise meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone, which separates North and South Korea. The biggest news came when Trump became the first sitting U.S. President, though briefly, to set foot in North Korea.
There was no hint of an agreement because North Korea wants sanctions relief before total denuclearization. Rumors circulated following the encounter that Trump may be considering acceptance of a “freeze” in place of a complete nuclear-free North Korea.
Many panned the meeting as a mere photo op while others gave Trump credit for moving forward. Scott, a key Trump ally, is somewhat skeptical.
“I also applaud @realDonaldTrump’s efforts to get a deal with North Korea. But we need to see action,” Scott said in another tweet. “We need to make progress to denuclearize the region & we need to do it soon. We shouldn’t waste our time negotiating with dictators unless we’re confident we can get a deal.”
With sufficient criticism and skepticism of the President’s Asian foreign policy coming from Republicans, all that Democrats needed to do was let that play out. With Trump known for backtracking or “clarifying” earlier pronouncements, there is still time for further clarification.
Rubio: 9 is enough
The Supreme Court’s 2018-19 term ended last week with a case that halted — at least temporarily — the Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the census, and another that said federal courts have no role in gerrymandering disputes.
The first case pleased Democrats and progressives while the other was welcome news for Republicans and conservatives. They also highlight the desire by some Democrats, 10 presidential candidates, according to The New York Times, to expand the Supreme Court beyond its current nine-justice membership following Trump’s appointment of two conservatives.
Rubio is trying to nip that effort before it gets off the ground with his proposal to amend the Constitution which would enshrine the current number of 9. Last week, he wrote to his Senate colleagues seeking support for the resolution filed in March.
“We cannot allow radical, partisan institutional changes to delegitimize our nation’s highest court,” Rubio wrote. For that reason, I invite all Senators to co-sponsor a constitutional amendment (S.J. Res. 14) to limit the Supreme Court of the United States to nine justices, the number dating back to 1869.”
Rubio’s resolution currently has 13 Senate Republican co-sponsors, but only one has joined since the March launch. Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher filed the companion House resolution.
Scott praises defense authorization
Before the Senate left town for the July 4 recess, they passed a huge bipartisan defense spending bill. An 86-8 vote approved the $750 billion measure.
Scott, a member of both the Budget Committee and Armed Services Committee, was pleased by what was in the spending bill. In a release, he touted the inclusion of provisions that put more pressure on the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro, and an amendment to “hold China accountable.”
“I’m proud my colleagues supported my important amendments to prohibit the (Department of Defense) DOD from doing business with anyone that supports the oppressive Maduro regime,” Scott said, “and to require DOD to provide information on every contract between the Department and businesses controlled by the Chinese government.”
The bill also contained another provision relevant to Scott and Florida, but not mentioned in the release. It calls for officially establishing the United States Space Force and placing it under the Air Force.
Scott, who also serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, was in line with Florida’s hopes to host the space force, but Air Force officials do not wish to consider Cape Canaveral as a home. The House will weigh in with their version in July but reportedly support establishing the space force.
Latest sanctions applauded
The struggles in Venezuela continue, but Maduro still clings to power. The Trump administration has placed numerous sanctions on members of the regime, but despite the U.S. and other nations backing Juan Guaidó, Maduro is showing no signs of budging.
Some of the sanctions are directed toward Maduro personally as well as the nation’s first lady. Last week, Trump added their son, Nicolás Ernesto Maduro Guerra, to the list.
“The Trump administration’s new sanctions target corrupt and criminal Maduro thugs who are directly responsible for the ongoing countrywide electrical blackouts that are harming the Venezuelan people and their access to basic goods, potable water, health care and social services,” said Rubio.
Playing defense and offense
Last week, one of the House’s most outspoken members was defending himself before the House, but heading to court to press charges for an incident following a public appearance.
Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz is filing charges against the woman who tossed a beverage at him during a rally in early June, while he is the subject of a House ethics inquiry for a tweet directed at former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
Gaetz is taking Amanda Kondrat’yev, who filed to run against Gaetz in 2016 but eventually withdrew, to court for throwing a beverage on him following the event. He argued that by not pushing for criminal charges against her, he would be setting a bad precedent.
“If there are no consequences, then maybe it is me getting hit with a drink one time, but what if it’s a member of my staff?” Gaetz asked. “What if (next time), instead of a drink, it’s acid or urine or something else like that?”
At the same time, Gaetz is dealing with a House Ethics Committee probe regarding the tweet involving Cohen, suggesting the now-imprisoned attorney has secrets he did not wish his family to know. Not long after, Gaetz removed the tweet and apologized to Cohen, but the committee ultimately determined it would pursue the complaint.
One of the reasons cited was the committee’s inability to determine without an interview with Gaetz, which he declined. The equally represented committee is chaired by Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, who will not participate in the investigation against his Florida colleague.
Gaetz feels that a double standard is in play, noting that he apologized for his tweet, but others have done things far worse. He told Fox News commentator Martha McCallum that Democrats such as Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Maxine Waters said things far worse without an ethics investigation.
“I guess when a Republican says something that might go a little over the line,” he said, “it might be treated a little differently.”
Amendment helps disaster victims
Along with approving $4.5 billion in emergency funds for operation at the southern border, one of the other final acts from the House was passing the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2020. The bill, which was passed by a 224-196 vote, funds among other things, the Executive Office of the President, the judiciary, as well as the U.S. Tax Court.
Panama City Republican Neal Dunn was among those voting against the bill due to its cost but managed to insert an amendment into the final package that helps navigate individuals through the maze of the tax code following disasters like Hurricane Michael. Dunn’s amendment designates $1 million to be used to prioritize tax counseling services for victims of recent natural disasters.
“While I am disappointed in the out of control funding levels included in the Financial Services appropriations bill, I am pleased that my colleagues in the House supported my amendment to increase tax aid services to disaster victims,” said Dunn.
“While Congress passed disaster supplemental funding, many victims are still in need of professional tax consulting services to help them understand how to navigate their taxes while rebuilding their lives, their businesses and their local communities.”
All delegation Democrats voted in favor of the bill while all Republicans voted against it.
Tiger Bay bipartisanship
Members of Congress often find a member, or members, with whom they can work to pass legislation and move policy forward. Such a bipartisan professional relationship has developed between St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz and Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy.
Last week they made a joint appearance at the Tiger Bay Club to share their views and instances where they have worked together. The most recent was last week’s emergency border funding bill, where Murphy joined with Waltz to adopt the Senate version, while House progressives fought hard for the House version.
“There was a big difference between the House-passed bill and the Senate-passed bill,” Murphy told attendees. “The Senate, though, passed their bill overwhelmingly and (last week) we had the option of voting on the clean Senate bill, or trying to make changes which the Senate said they wouldn’t take,” Murphy said.
Waltz echoed many of Murphy’s comments but added “we still have a lot of work to do in terms of amnesty laws, loopholes and security at the border. In the end, the Senate bill passed overwhelmingly.
The two have also worked together on other issues, but especially on election security, where they jointly filed a bill that would require public notification of any election security breach. With their similar national security backgrounds, several opportunities exist to find common ground.
Murphy has extensive experience with the Department of Defense and the Pentagon, while Waltz is a former Army Green Beret officer and a policy specialist at the Pentagon.
Small businesses receive funding
Much like his Republican colleague, Rep. Dunn (see above), St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist also had reason to be pleased with the passage of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for 2020. Crist touted a record $300 million for the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI).
CDFIs provide credit and financial services to underserved communities across the U.S. The bill would give them access to the funding necessary to start a small business, buy or keep safe housing, and continue the development of the community.
“Small businesses keep our communities vibrant, unique and thriving — and access to capital is their lifeblood. But for many small businesses, the door to traditional lenders is closed,” Crist said. “That’s where Community Development Financial Institutions come in, providing affordable lending to job creators and communities’ struggling to grow.”
Crist and his colleagues on the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government subcommittee pushed for the funding.
In addition to the $50 million increase in the overall CDFI Fund Budget, the bill includes a new $10 million for the Fund to administer the Small-Dollar Loan Program that was authorized under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 but not funded.
“The CDFI Fund has a proven track record, increasing access to capital in underserved communities for housing, restaurants, domestic violence shelters, and grocery stores in food deserts,” Crist added. “They’ve been vital to lower income neighborhoods across Pinellas County and the state of Florida.”
‘Boots to Business’ launched
Dover Republican Ross Spano and Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider have joined in filing legislation that would assist veterans seeking to start their own business. The Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Act would statutorily authorize the Boots to Business (B2B) program that helps transitioning service members start and grow businesses.
Administered through the Office of Veteran Business Development in the Small Business Administration (SBA), the B2B program offers transitioning service members and military spouses a foundational two-day, in-person course for an introduction to business ownership which can be followed by optional online courses on topics including market research, business fundamentals and revenue readiness.
“I believe we need to fully equip our troops to defend our country abroad, but we also need to support them when they return home,” Spano said in a joint release. “This program will ensure our soldiers and their spouses are given the tools they need to succeed in starting their own businesses.”
The most recent U.S. Census recorded 2.4 million veteran-owned businesses employing 5.7 million individuals. Veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than those with no military experience.
The bill has the full support of Small Business Committee Chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez of New York, who said veterans and their families “deserve not only our immense gratitude, but resources to ease the transition to civilian life when they return home.”
Wilson backing Harris
Going into last week’s two-night, 20-candidate Democratic presidential debate, only three of the 13-member Democratic delegation from Florida had endorsed anyone from the field. Many expected that number would soon grow, and it took only three days to make that a reality.
“Sen. Harris is a lifelong public servant who has staked her career on those delivering results for those most often left out,” Wilson said in a statement. “She has the courage to confront this nation’s biggest challenges: protecting access to affordable health care, building a more inclusive economy, revitalizing public education and addressing climate change.
“In the Senate and on the debate stage, we saw what a real president should look like.”
Wilson became the second Floridian to endorse Harris. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach announced his support two weeks ago.
Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee is backing former Vice President Joe Biden, while Rep. Murphy of Winter Park announced her endorsement of Beto O’Rourke in March.
Candidates kept out
Before the Democratic debate participants left Miami, five accepted an invitation from Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to visit the Homestead migrant detention facility with her. In the end, the group was not allowed inside, but they held a joint news conference outside to lament the living conditions and to blast the Trump administration for not providing better living conditions.
“I was denied entry, and this is before I placed the invitation to the candidates,” Mucarsel-Powell said on a Thursday morning talk with media members.
Those joining Mucarsel-Powell outside included debate star Sen. Harris, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and former Health and Human Services Secretary Julián Castro. More than 2,000 illegal immigrant children are housed inside.
“When I am elected, one of the first things I am going to do is shut down these private detention facilities, just shut ’em down,” Harris said. She defined the conditions inside as “abuse.”
“We were stonewalled today by an administration and a private contractor that does not want us to see what is happening behind those walls,” Castro said. “And it makes you wonder: What the hell are they hiding?”
There was confusion about when Mucarsel-Powell sought permission to go inside. HHS rules call for two weeks notice when elected officials seek access and her staff later said she was approved for a visit the following Monday
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar attempted to visit the facility Wednesday but were also turned away.
Medical billing transparency proposed
Medical patients are often shocked by medical far higher than expected, especially costs incurred when patients are forced to seek care from out-of-network providers. Last week, Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala joined with several bipartisan colleagues to bring about changes in certain billing practices.
The Protecting People from Surprise Medical Bills Act takes a proven approach to protect patients from surprise bills by adopting an arbitration model. When there is a dispute, a neutral arbiter chooses the fairer price between the provider charge and the payment by the insurer.
“The practice of surprise medical billing must stop — too many Americans are facing enormous medical bills for seeking treatment from a health care provider they did not know was outside their insurance network,” Shalala said in a joint release.
“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill that will prevent patients from becoming saddled with unexpected bills after a medical procedure — emergency or otherwise, she added.”
In addition to setting up the arbitration system, the bill bans the practice of billing for unanticipated out-of-network care and also improves transparency by requiring identification of in-network providers and patient deductibles.
According to the sponsors, the billing model creates an incentive for both parties to choose reasonable numbers to cover the cost of treatment. Signing on were 32 original co-sponsors.
On this day
July 2, 1964 — President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act. The 15,000-word law seeks to change many of the economic and social conditions under which blacks live and work in the South.
Among the 12-member delegation from Florida in the House, only Democratic Rep. Claude Pepper of Miami voted for the bill. Both Sens. Spessard Holland and George Smathers voted no on final passage.
July 2, 2013 — BP agreed to a settlement to a settlement that will pay Florida $3.25 billion in damages for the catastrophic oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. Gov. Scott praised Attorney General Pam Bondi for the settlement saying “This agreement will help Florida implement key projects and invest in environmental priorities to keep our state beautiful.”
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson felt the compensation was nowhere near enough. He said the “gross negligence” involved meant “the amount of penalties, specifically for violations of the Clean Water Act, could be — and I think should be — much larger.”
Happy Independence Day from Florida Politics and The Delegation. The next issue will be Tuesday, July 9.