Trump migrant rule slammed
Before President Donald Trump left for France and the G-7 economic summit, immigration entered into the news cycle with a new initiative from the Trump administration. A new rule now permits immigration authorities to hold migrant children until their application for asylum is heard before a court, going around a current requirement that calls for release after 20 days.
The 20-day policy, codified under the Flores Settlement Agreement dating back to the Clinton administration, is until their court case is heard. According to the Trump administration, a large amount of these migrants never return for a court hearing.
Expect lawsuits seeking to block the move shortly. Reaction from Democrats was swift.
“This is a flagrant attempt to undermine the Flores settlement, which provides critical protections for migrant youth,” tweeted Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. “Indefinite family detention is harmful, cruel and unacceptable.”
Donna Shalala of Coral Gables likened the move to traumatizing children.
“I refuse to stand idly by as this callous administration continues to attack children by housing them in cages, separating them from their families, and seeking to place them in indefinite detention,” she said in a statement. “While I do not believe the courts will allow this proposed rule to stand, we must work to zealously protect every child that flees to our country in search of a better life. “
Trump and his administration were roundly criticized for placing children in facilities separate from adults with whom they journeyed to the border. The President touted the new rule, which holds families in the same facility, as enabling him to be “the one that kept the families together.”
The White House argues smugglers have exploited a loophole in Flores that enables smugglers to use children as a means to create “fake families” and gain entry into the U.S. after 20 days. The administration describes the “Flores loophole as a driving force behind the crisis at our southern border.”
The Trump administration pledges to seek to terminate the Flores agreement.
“One thing is clear: The Trump Administration is not concerned about children and families fleeing crisis and violence,” said Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. “Detention is not an alternative to separation; indefinite family detention is equally unacceptable. Children do not belong behind bars. Even short periods of detention can have severe detrimental effects on children.”
The three South Florida Democrats have regularly called attention to the Homestead youth detention facility before it was closed earlier this month.
Rubio applauds Fentanyl sanctions
China has pledged to Trump that they would take action to stop their citizens’ trafficking of the powerful drug Fentanyl, which continues to pour into the U.S. Little has happened.
Last week, U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced coordinated actions to bring additional financial pressure upon those who manufacture, sell, or distribute synthetic opioids or their precursor chemicals. Three Chinese nationals, as well as affiliated entities, were singled out by Treasury.
“Today’s action by the administration is long overdue as it targets Chinese kingpins responsible for the nefarious international drug trafficking operation contributing to our nation’s opioid crisis,” said Sen. Marco Rubio.
“As a co-sponsor of the NDAA’s anti-opioid measure, I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and President Trump to get the bipartisan Fentanyl Sanctions Act signed into law and hold accountable China and other countries who are trafficking deadly synthetic opioids into our communities.”
The bill would authorize comprehensive sanctions on foreign nationals and develop a strategy to combat synthetic opioids coming into the country.
Two bipartisan House bills under the identical names of the Fentanyl Sanctions Act are currently in committee. One bill is sponsored by Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan, while the other is sponsored by New York Democrat Max Rose and co-sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube. Both bills are assigned to seven committees.
Scott prays for regime change
Trips to Israel have been in the news recently, especially the denial of Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering for the purpose of protesting. Other delegation members visited the Jewish state on separate visits, while last week, Sen. Rick Scott was the latest.
Joined by Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun, Scott visited with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — whom he called a friend — and other officials. His trip also included a stop at the Western Wall, where it is common to offer prayers and leave a written version inserted into one of the wall’s small openings.
Scott revealed his prayer was for the removal of Nicolás Maduro as President of Venezuela. His appeal for divine intervention falls in line with earlier public advocacy for Maduro’s ouster, including the use of military force if necessary.
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) August 21, 2019
Earlier this year, former Congressman, now-Gov. Ron DeSantis left a prayer in the wall asking that Florida be spared from hurricanes this year. In 2007, former Governor, now-Congressman Charlie Crist also left a prayer asking for protection from hurricanes.
Florida has been spared, so far, from storms, while Crist’s appeal was clearly answered for that year and nine years after that. Perhaps Maduro could be on thin ice.
Not all felt blessed. The Buzz from the Tampa Bay Times named Scott their “Loser of the Week” for his non-hurricane-related wish.
Retirement funds at risk
Sanctioning China went down another road this week with two Senators seeking answers why federal pension funds could wind up in Chinese companies. Rubio and New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen urged Michael Kennedy, the Chairman of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB), to reverse a decision involving investment strategies.
In a letter to Kennedy, the Senators say that his current investment strategy involves investing in Chinese holdings that will effectively use retirement savings to fund the Chinese government and Communist Party’s efforts to undermine U.S. economic and national security.
They said $50 billion in retirement assets of federal government employees, including members of the U.S. Armed Forces, are at stake.
“It is well-known that the Chinese Government uses state-owned and state-directed enterprises to control production, compete in global markets, and serve the Chinese Communist Party’s military, political and economic goals,” they wrote.
“Many of these Chinese companies may soon receive investments directly from the paychecks of members of the U.S. Armed Services and other federal government employees because of your decision.”
The three-page letter lists several investment holdings with portfolios that include Chinese companies, including some under U.S. sanctions. They also asked a series of questions seeking answers by Sept. 6 on how Kennedy considered the risks before coming to his decision.
“It is our responsibility to these public servants to ensure that their savings do not undermine the American interests for which they serve,” they concluded. “We look forward to your reply.”
Florida split on Trump
A little more than a year before the 2020 elections, Floridians are nearly totally split on the job Trump is doing. A new survey by St. Pete Polls shows 48 percent approve of Trump’s work performance, while 49 percent disapprove.
Like most states, Florida is polarized. Republicans give Trump an 80 percent approval rating with 18 percent disapproving, while 18 percent of Democrats approve, and 78 percent disapprove. Independents responded with a 45 percent approval rating and 52 percent disapproval.
Florida is clearly a must-win state for the President, but he has several months to either improve his standing or fall hard. Gun control, immigration and trade have yet to play out and could affect his standing with his core supporters, or those on the fence, one way or the other.
In response to the survey results, Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo described the state as “the swingiest of swing states” but pointed to the seven-point deficit among independents as “likely causing some sleepless nights for Team MAGA.”
The poll surveyed 1,941 registered voters in Florida. While many of the national survey samples include a higher percentage of Democrats, this poll spoke with 38.5 percent Democrats, 38.4 percent Republicans and 23.1 percent independents.
Nationally, the Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Trump’s disapproval rating around 10 points higher than his approval.
Foreign aid funds restored
American foreign policy is all about walking softly but carrying a big stick. While that line was not used in a recent speech before the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy took the occasion to insist that both are needed, but made a strong pitch for foreign aid.
Speaking before Trump left for France and the G-7 Summit, Murphy chided the President for pursuing a policy that is leading toward American isolation. She singled out his reported desires to eliminate a significant amount directed toward foreign aid, calling the policy a “step back from its leadership role in the world.
“But it is an absolute mistake for U.S. officials to provide the military with all the funding it needs, or even more than it is requesting, while starving our diplomats and our aid professionals at USAID (United States Agency for International Development),” she said.
The day following Murphy’s speech, the President killed plans to cut foreign aid. The move frustrated budget hawks.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is receiving praise for using his clout to influence Trump. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also weighed in with the President to keep the foreign aid flowing.
Conservative complaint includes Soto
A conservative legal foundation is accusing a group of 15 House members of, in effect, “blackmailing” a Las Vegas casino mogul in an attempt to coerce the casino to allow employees to unionize. One of those accused is Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) filed the complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), alleging the lawmakers engaged in a quid-pro-quo solicitation in a letter to Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Red Rock Resorts. Fertitta was seeking a tweak to the 2017 tax overhaul while, according to the complaint, the members sought the right to unionize for his employees.
Soto and 13 other Democrats signed the letter to Fertitta, while Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick wrote a similar letter signed only by him.
“[T]he House Members seemingly sought to coerce a private citizen’s behavior by linking their request with pending legislation before the House,” wrote Kendra Arnold, FACT’s executive director in a letter to OCE
The OCE is a nonpartisan entity with sweeping authority to review allegations of misconduct involving House staff and lawmakers
In response, Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan said, “The OCE complaint is a baseless allegation — there was no quid pro quo.” Soto also responded with a statement.
“The letter at issue complied with ethics rules as stated in Rep. Pocan’s response,” Soto said. “We will continue to stand up for American workers and encourage all stakeholders to come to the table to negotiate.”
Demings laments unequal pay
In April, American women celebrated Equal Pay Day, the day on which their compensation for 2018 and the first four months of 2019, equaled that of men for all of 2018. Based on median salaries that day arrived for black women August 22.
That is a point of contention for Orlando Democrat Val Demings, who complained about the disparity.
Black women earn 61 cents to the dollar. That hurts all of us. We're throwing away so much unused potential by failing to live up to our ideals.
I want every black girl in America to grow up knowing that she can do anything—and be paid fairly for it. #BlackWomensEqualPayDay
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) August 22, 2019
A 2017 National Women’s Law Center study shows over a 40-year career, women lose $418,800 as a result of the wage gap, and women of color lose about $870,000. Native American women won’t be able to celebrate their equal pay day until Sept. 23 and Latina women not until Nov. 20.
Mental health treatment sought
In an attempt to ensure that mental health needs are recognized as legitimate health care issues, Rep. Gus Bilirakis is an original co-sponsor of the Mental Health Parity Compliance Act. The bill, sponsored by California Democrat Katie Porter, is designed to enhance enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act enacted in 2008.
This new bill would require health plans and insurers to perform in-depth analyses to ensure compliance while directing the heads of both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor to request those analyses if complaints of noncompliance from patients emerge.
“For far too long, I have heard patient accounts of some bad insurance actors who are blatantly ignoring the Mental Health Parity law and provide inadequate mental health coverage,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “Our Mental Health Parity Compliance Act will improve enforcement of the requirement that mental health coverage is not more restrictive than other types of medical care.”
Under the bill, 50 plans and insurers will be chosen at random for an annual compliance investigation. The report will then be sent to Congress to strengthen enforcement.
Mucarsel-Powell is one of the 14 bill co-sponsors. Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy are sponsoring the companion bill.
Castor talks climate change
Individuals, industry and agriculture are all hearing the call to take steps to address factors contributing to climate change. Last week, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor shared perspectives with stakeholders on ways to take positive steps.
Castor, chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, visited the Usher Land and Timber ranch near Chiefland, and later participated in an agriculture roundtable at the University of Florida.
The ranch is owned and operated by Ken and Lynette Griner and their son Korey. They emphasize working with the natural ecosystem while producing meat and timber for American and global consumers.
She believes there is a growing realization that consensus on taking action is growing among all sectors, but federal policy needs to catch up.
“Agriculture is looking for solutions to sequester carbon and be more efficient and productive,” Castor said. “The population is going to continue to grow, so we are going to need more productive crops and livestock.
“Farmers who understand this are ready to take on the challenge, but right now, federal policy does not line up with what needs to be done.”
Solutions from the Land and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (UF/IFAS) hosted the event. Solutions from the Land is a nonprofit organization that engages growers and agricultural leaders to advance answers to climate change and help agriculture deal with its effects.
Endangered Species Act in danger?
Vern Buchanan turned his sights on the Trump administration for gutting the Endangered Species Act.
In a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Buchanan labeled the plans as “an assault against nature.”
“I am writing today to urge you to reconsider the Interior and Commerce Department’s ill-advised proposal to eliminate key protections established by the Endangered Species Act,” the Sarasota Republican wrote. “The more than 45-year-old law is the gold standard for conservation and the protection of wildlife.”
Among the items irritating Buchanan: eliminating automatic protections for plants and animals, removing review requirements before oil and gas drilling in habitats with endangered species, and watering down requirements for delisting a species.
“It would be unconscionable to weaken the very safeguards that have kept these animals alive for nearly half a century,” Buchanan wrote, “especially in the wake of a recent U.N. report showing that 1 million species of wildlife and plants are now threatened with extinction across the globe.”
Hastings, Bilirakis target ‘kickbacks’
To combat the opioid crisis, Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings is joining with Bilirakis and other House colleagues to ask Attorney General William Barr to implement a law intended to help. They charge that “brokers” are making money by accepting “kickbacks” for referring addicts to disreputable facilities and must be held accountable.
Hastings and Bilirakis signed on to a letter asking Barr for “the number of cases charged under the SUPPORT Act, the percentage of those cases which resulted in convictions, and the average sentence associated with those convictions.” The letter also urged the Department of Justice “to outline any additional resources … it may need to address patient brokering.”
The SUPPORT Act, passed in late 2018 and signed by Trump, makes the act of accepting kickbacks for these referrals a crime. The law intends to stop the treatment of those battling addiction as “commodities.”
“The crooked incentive system created by patient brokering treats patients as nothing more than a paycheck and often leaves them out on the streets,” Bilirakis said. “In the fight against opioid abuse, it is important for the House to practice its oversight duties — especially when patients’ lives are at stake. I look forward to Attorney General Barr’s response to our inquiry.
Rep. Hastings will host a roundtable discussion on youth mental health and suicide Wednesday, Aug. 28 beginning at 10 a.m. The location is the DeVos-Cook Academic Center on the West Palm Beach Flagship Campus of Keiser University. The address is 2600 North Military Trail.
Frankel blasts abortion rule
The Trump administration’s new rule forbidding Title X funding recipients from providing abortion counseling left Planned Parenthood with a decision. Last week, the organization decided to forgo the funds.
As expected, abortion rights supporters reacted with outrage at placing Planned Parenthood in that position. West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel was among them, calling it “the cruelest and most dangerous rule coming out of a presidential administration.”
In remarks before a group of constituents, Frankel said: “We cannot go back to the days when the state and the government and the presidents were in control of women’s reproductive rights.” She further claimed that millions of people would go without health care.
The rule did not attempt to place restrictions on abortion but prohibits organization such as Planned Parenthood from advising women to seek one or from advising locations of abortion clinics if they accept federal dollars. There are no such limits on entities funded without taxpayer funding.
Frankel said Planned Parenthood provides basic health care for women, including mammograms and HIV testing, which is not affected by the rule, but critics say more women may be unable to find affordable providers of abortion services. Anti-abortion groups say Planned Parenthood’s decision makes it clear that their primary service is abortion.
Frankel’s colleague, Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples, applauded Planned Parenthood’s move, saying “American taxpayers should not have to subsidize the abortion industry.”
About 4 million women are served nationwide under the Title X program, and Planned Parenthood says it helped about 40 percent of patients.
Biden blamed for Thomas
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President, has made a few verbal mistakes on the campaign trail lately.
Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson isn’t concerned with any current Biden misstatement. Instead, she is urging Sen. Kamala Harris, whom Wilson has endorsed, to pound away at Biden’s role in confirming Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991.
After praising Biden for his partnership with Obama, Wilson said “If Joe Biden had done what was fair, Clarence Thomas would not be on the Supreme Court. Every time I see or hear Clarence Thomas’s name, my mind goes back to Joe Biden.”
Wilson believes Harris needs to forcefully remind Democratic voters of Biden’s role in the confirmation process 28 years ago. Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and personally voted against Thomas’s confirmation.
Thomas believes Biden was dishonest with him during the confirmation process, but many Democrats thought the chairman was too tough on Thomas’s accuser, law professor Anita Hill.
“(Harris) needs to remind African American people of his role in assisting the appointment of Clarence Thomas,” Wilson said. “This is something that people probably don’t even think about. She needs to call attention to the American people.”
On this day
August 27, 2004 — The race to replace the retiring Sen. Bob Graham grew nasty with former Republican Rep. Bill McCollum accusing former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez of “despicable” tactics. During a televised debate, McCollum condemned Martinez for pulling a flyer from his pocket to claim the former Congressman was accusing Martinez of “catering to the radical homosexual lobby.”
McCollum hotly denied the accusation and demanded an apology from Martinez. After the debate, McCollum said he would not support Martinez if he emerges as the GOP nominee. On the Democratic side, Rep. Peter Deutsch from Broward County and former Florida Commissioner of Education Betty Castor are leading the field.
August 27, 2008 — Sen. Barack Obama became the first African American nominee of a political party when Democrats officially chose him at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Obama overcame an early disadvantage in name recognition and money to defeat Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Several Clinton supporters remained disappointed, but the party is expected to rally around Obama during the fall campaign. Rep. Wasserman Schultz, who was co-chair of the Clinton campaign in Florida, gave a nominating speech for Obama saying: “No matter where we stood at the beginning of this campaign, Democrats stand together today.”