Enormous challenge in Bahamas
As Congress returns from its summer recess, they confront the developing humanitarian crisis coming from the devastation in the Bahamas. The death toll is approaching 50, while 70,000 are homeless and needing assistance quickly.
A resident told CNN: “Grand Bahama right now is dead.”
Last week, Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio called on President Donald Trump to waive certain visa requirements for those with relatives in the U.S. Over the weekend, 18 House members of the delegation made a similar request.
Both Senators traveled to the islands with Gov. Ron DeSantis to get a firsthand look at what was days before a popular tourist destination. They were stunned by what they saw.
“The logistical challenges facing the Bahamas are extraordinary. Airports have no power, planes cannot fuel, roads are impassable, and the ports are not safe,” Rubio said.
“Only the U.S. military has the logistical capability to do heavy lifts necessary to deliver fuel, medicine, food, and other supplies to islands devastated by Hurricane Dorian.”
He offered another suggestion. In a letter to the United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green, Rubio requested his help in having the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort be repositioned to the Bahamas.
“The USNS Comfort, and its crew of trained medical staff, flight deck and ability to desalinate water, would be ideal in helping the Bahamian people,” Rubio wrote. “While it is currently assigned to the U.S. Southern Command’s area of responsibility, the USNS Comfort, if requested, could be reassigned to the Bahamas and provide short-term medical treatment as runways and ports come back online.”
Democrats Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston joined with Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart to seek additional assistance for victims. In a letter to Green, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, the trio asked for tax incentives for charitable giving and repeating the request for waiving certain visa requirements, among other things.
Also traveling to the Bahamas was Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson, who sought to speak with residents to assess their immediate needs. Wilson, whose maternal grandparents were Bahamians, also met with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
Other efforts are underway throughout the country by elected officials and private citizens. The islands can use all the help they can get.
Relief and evacuation efforts are not all running smoothly. Hundreds were kicked off a Florida-bound ferry in Freeport due to a lack of a visa.
“As hundreds of thousands of Bahamians seek refuge or start to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian, we cannot have the kind of confusion that happened (Sunday) night in Freeport,” Scott said in a statement. “Sen. Rubio and I continue to urge President Trump to waive some visa requirements for those in the Bahamas that have family in the United States.
“But until that happens, there needs to be clarity on the current rules.”
Scott offers Bahamas plan
With suggestions and proposals for aid to the Bahamas coming forward, Scott has a few of his own. One features a tweak of an idea he proposed involving the Peace Corps and China.
He proposes changing the tax code to allow unlimited tax deductibility on contributions to disaster relief organizations aiding victims of Hurricane Dorian. Another idea is to redirect some foreign aid currently directed toward “our adversaries” and allocate those funds to Dorian relief.
“At times of crisis, we come together,” he said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do to help our Bahamian brothers and sisters.”
In July, Scott expressed his goal of getting the Peace Corps to end its programs in China saying, “there is no reason the U.S. “should be giving millions in foreign aid to China” and provide government-funded volunteer workers into a prosperous nation that seeks to undermine American interests.
He still holds that view, but now urges the Peace Corps to “terminate all activities in China and instead use those resources to support recovery in the Bahamas.”
In a tweet, Scott revealed a conversation with Trump, saying the President supports his Peace Corps proposal:
Just spoke to @realDonaldTrump about the Bahamas, which I visited yesterday. He said he supports my proposals to send @PeaceCorps resources from China to the Bahamas and to shift foreign aid from our enemies to the Bahamas for humanitarian relief.
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) September 7, 2019
Trump resort stays probed
Recent revelations that some Air Force flight crews have stayed at a Trump resort in Scotland has resulted in escalating media coverage of the practice. The Air Force has ordered a probe.
Pilots on long flights have refueled near Trump’s Turnberry Resort and occasionally stayed overnight. While ordering the review, Air Force chief spokesman Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas said, “initial reviews indicate that aircrew transiting through Scotland adhered to all guidance and procedures.”
A review might find otherwise, but even the practice is found to be within Air Force guidelines, many Democrats see it as unseemly. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando is one of those.
Our tax dollars hard at work…for the President's personal businesses.https://t.co/8GRSZ3cYg8
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) September 9, 2019
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will also investigate.
Medical treatment policy slammed
Another new Trump administration policy is under intense criticism from civil rights groups and Democrats. On Aug. 7, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced immigrants here illegally seeking or undergoing medical treatment for sometimes serious illnesses will no longer be immune from deportation.
The new policy, affecting what is known as Medical Deferred Action, now exempts only those undergoing treatment before Aug. 7. Several Democrats, including four from Florida, wrote to McAleenan, acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli, and Acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matthew Albence demanding answers on the new policy.
“In recent years, USCIS has repeatedly implemented far-reaching new measures without adequate notice or clear explanation,” they wrote. “This policy change is unfair to families who followed long-standing USCIS procedures for requesting deferred action, only to discover in a denial letter that those policies have changed.
Among the 111 House members signing the letter were Florida Democrats Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Ted Deutch. Sixteen Democratic Senators also signed.
With those already undergoing treatment receiving exemptions, the letter expressed frustration about a lack of notice and the timing. It cites a denial of benefits notice patients received, which also gives them “33 days to leave the United States or be ‘removed from the United States and found ineligible for a future visa or other U.S. immigration benefit.’”
In conclusion, the letter asks 14 detailed questions concerning the planning, implementation, and notification of the new policy.
Gaetz, Sanders agree on Yemen
In May, Congress passed legislation calling for the end of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s conflict in Yemen, which is targeted at Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Trump’s veto, and the inability to override it, left the U.S. position at status quo.
With signs the Saudis and their United Arab Emirates may be looking for a way out, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz joined with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others to try another way to defund the policy.
In a letter to the leadership of the Armed Services Committee in both the House and Senate, Gaetz, Sanders and 15 other signees have a clear goal of ending all “U.S. involvement in offensive strikes in the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis in Yemen.”
After thanking the committee leaders for their “hard work on the National Defense Authorization Act,” which is about to go into bicameral conference discussions, the letter writers called for the inclusion of an amendment that would prohibit U.S. military support “for the Saudi-led coalition’s war against the Houthis in Yemen.”
Gaetz’s participation falls in line with his recent calls for ending U.S. participation in what he has described as “endless, unfocused, unconstitutional wars.” He and Trump agree on trying to get out of Afghanistan, but by joining with Sanders, Gaetz is displaying a rare difference of opinion with Trump on an issue.
In additional to Gaetz and Sanders, the other lead signers of the letter included California Democrat Ro Khanna and Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee.
No Floridian other than Gaetz signed the letter.
Waltz rips Taliban talks
For weeks, the United States has engaged with the Taliban to achieve some form of a peace agreement and enable most American military personnel to return home. Trump told the world Taliban representatives were scheduled to come to Camp David and cement a deal, but he canceled the talks after another Taliban car bombing killed 11 people, including an American.
St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz was highly critical of the President for even having the idea in the first place. Waltz spoke with CNN over the weekend to condemn the idea of holding peace talks with the Taliban, at least at this point.
“As we head into the anniversary of 9/11, I do not ever want to see these terrorists step foot on the United States soil period,” Waltz said. “I can understand the president’s frustration. Heck, the American people’s frustration.
“This war has been long, hard and costly, but that doesn’t mean that we can just walk away or just wish away these wars.”
The days before Trump’s announcement consisted of mixed signals from both the Taliban and U.S. leaders. The U.S. thought a deal was imminent, despite the Taliban attacks, while other American politicians, military leaders and diplomats warned that an agreement put together so quickly could lead to chaos and even the possibility of civil war.
“One of the major aspects of the deal was that the Taliban assured us that they would stop Afghanistan from being used by al-Qaida, ISIS and others to launch attacks on the West,” Waltz continued. “Even if you buy into those assurances, which I don’t, I don’t think they have the military capability to keep al-Qaida from using Afghanistan as a base.”
Several others shared Waltz’s feelings. Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, whose father was Vice President at the time of the 9/11 attacks, said “No member of the Taliban should set foot (at Camp David). Ever.”
Trump’s desire to end the Afghan was is well-known, but recent events proved a face-saving way out too difficult to find. On Monday, he declared the Taliban talks “dead.”
Demings: Trump threatening security
As three U.S. House of Representatives committees announced Monday they will investigate reports that Trump is trying to coerce Ukraine to help his reelection campaign, Demings weighed in hard.
President Trump has "acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government."
The President is threatening our security in order to extort a foreign country to help his reelection.
We are investigating and will hold him accountable. https://t.co/nrtV410KVJ
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) September 9, 2019
On Monday, the three Democratic committee chairs wrote to both Counsel to the President Pat Cipollone and Pompeo, demanding they preserve records for a subsequent congressional investigation.
The House letters charge: “A growing public record indicates that, for nearly two years, the President and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity.”
Specifically, the letters charge that Trump and Giuliani were trying to shake down Ukraine to get it to prosecute Ukrainians who provided crucial evidence against Trump’s convicted campaign manager Paul Manafort and to coerce Ukrainian cooperation for dirt on the Democratic presidential candidate and his son Hunter Biden, by threatening to withhold U.S. military aid.
“If the President is trying to pressure Ukraine into choosing between defending itself from Russian aggression without U.S. assistance or leveraging its judicial system to serve the ends of the Trump campaign, this would represent a staggering abuse of power, a boon to Moscow, and a betrayal of the public trust,” the letter charges.
Demings is the only Florida member of the Intelligence Committee. The Foreign Affairs Committee includes Deutch and Republicans Ted Yoho of Gainesville and Francis Rooney of Naples. The Oversight and Reform Committee includes Wasserman Schultz and Sarasota Republican Greg Steube.
Rubio, Demings push for newsroom diversity
Demings has taken on a crusade to foster more racial and ethnic diversity in journalism and on Tuesday she found allies among Rubio and others for a measure to encourage it.
Demings and Puerto Rico Republican Jenniffer González-Colón announced Tuesday they have introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for increased diversity in American media. Rubio joined Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen to do the same in the Senate.
This comes after Demings held a summit In Washington this summer to discuss increasing diversity in media.
“It is invaluable for our children and our democracy to have a cross-section of perspectives that reflect various cultures and voices in news and entertainment. America is at its best when every American can read, listen, and watch vibrant media that reflects the diversity of our great country,” Demings stated in a news release.
The pledges Congress to work with media entities and diverse stakeholders to develop common-ground solutions to eliminate barriers to media diversity.
“Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure of working with local media outlets across the state of Florida,” Rubio stated in the release. “These outlets are ingrained in our communities, offering unique and important insight. We must continue to support small, diverse media outlets that are instrumental in preserving local culture, and serve as an invaluable resource for our communities.”
Buchanan touts NOAA grant
Fortunately, severe outbreaks of red tide and toxic algal blooms have been held in check, but work continues to find ways to combat the menace better. Last week Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan praised new funding to promote continuing research.
Buchanan announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is awarding more than $1.9 million to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota for red tide research. Specifically, the funding for Mote Marine comes as a part of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Competitive Research Program.
“This funding announcement is great news for our community,” Buchanan said. “Mote Marine works tirelessly to counter red tide and improve Florida’s water quality. I will continue my push in Congress to deliver resources to fight the plague of red tide and protect Southwest Florida’s environment.”
In 2018, a Buchanan proposal to increase NOAA’s competitive external research for red tide by $8 million was signed into law. The project will occur under the direction of Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and CEO of Mote Marine.
Last year Florida suffered one of the worst bouts of red tide in the state’s history. The bloom, which finally dissipated in February, had plagued the coast for more than 15 months.
Buchanan was instrumental in getting $6.25 million in funding for research into the long-term health effects of red tide and other harmful algal blooms on humans.
Rooney: Drug prices ‘unconscionable’
The high cost of prescription drugs has become a fact of life for millions of American families, with Americans paying the highest costs in the world. Rooney finds that “unconscionable.”
“We’re paying more than they do for prescription drugs in Europe because the Europeans drive a harder bargain,” Rooney said in an interview with WINK-TV.
Rooney was referring to statistics that reveal Americans spend an average of $1,200 per person, per year on prescription medication. No other developed country spends that much.
He referred to legislation he sponsored to help address the problem.
“I’ve got one bill to require the disclosure of any price increase,” Rooney said. “Another bill to require publishing of list prices of drugs. President Trump is for both of those.”
Rooney indicated it would take the will of the entire Congress to make a difference.
“I’m trying my best,” Rooney said, “as are Republican and Democratic co-sponsors of these bills.”
Local government reimbursements sought
Gov. DeSantis asked Trump for FEMA assistance following a “robust” local government response to threats from Hurricane Dorian. Florida delegation co-chairs Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Buchanan led a letter signed by all 27 House delegation members urging Trump to approve the Governor’s request.
“As Hurricane Dorian, a devastating Category 2 storm with sustained winds of 110 miles per hour, made its way up Florida’s east coast, we write in full support of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for financial assistance for eligible Category B expenses under FEMA’s Public Assistance program for the State of Florida and 24 counties,” they wrote.
“As of Sept. 4, 2019, the State of Florida has incurred approximately $157.6 million in Category B emergency protective measures, and the counties have incurred approximately $39.7 million for a total of $197.3 million.”
Category B involves hurricane preparation activities and resources.
The members reminded the President five hurricanes had inflicted damage on Florida over the last three years and “local governments are still waiting on FEMA Public Assistance reimbursements from Hurricanes Michael and Irma.”
The damage caused by the hurricanes have depleted local resources, “and our local governments simply do not have the resources to recover from the past three active hurricane seasons, Hurricane Dorian, and prepare for what may come.”
DWS: Trump stealing funds
With Hurricane Dorian and the diversion of Department of Defense funds toward a border wall, Democrats chose a Floridian to give the weekly address. Wasserman Schulz delivered a five-minute message of thanks to first responders, but she spent most of the time blasting Trump for his move to “steal” military funds.
Here’s how federal budgeting is supposed to work: the military requests the resources needed to keep America safe, and then Congress approves funds. But now, @realDonaldTrump is trying to steal billions of $$$ to pay for his xenophobic border wall. I’m not going to stand for it. pic.twitter.com/FdYbLjCmQ7
— Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@RepDWStweets) September 7, 2019
“We’re never stronger as Americans than when we face down a crisis like Dorian together — then help everyone get back on their feet. So today, we must also remember the women and men who are the first to respond in dangerous moments like this.”
But Wasserman Schulz was likely chosen for her role as chair of a House subcommittee that oversees appropriations for military project funding. The diversion is not only misguided, she says, but against the law.
“President Trump says he will steal $3.6 billion from projects that the military requested — and Congress appropriated funding for — and divert it to a xenophobic vanity wall project on our Southwest border,” she said. Wasserman Schulz added: “The Constitution expressly forbids this: No President can spend funds not appropriated by Congress.”
Pledging to do everything to stop Trump’s action that amounts to “some sick reality TV plot.”
“I’m not going to stand for it,” she said in a tweet.”
Shalala gets primary opponent
Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala knew she was facing a rematch next fall when her 2018 Republican opponent, Maria Elvira Salazar, announced she was running against the first-term representative in 2020. Now, one of her 2018 primary opponents said he wants another chance as well.
Michael Hepburn, who finished last in a five-candidate Democratic field, is expecting fewer candidates in 2020. A two-person race would give him a better chance, he feels.
“This district and these times deserve more than just a centrist approach; they demand a fighter and champion who exudes the fierce urgency of now,” Hepburn during his announcement last week. “All I have ever known throughout my life is to make sure that I’m part of the solution, not the problem.”
While a reliable critic of Trump, Shalala has not taken a hard-left approach to governing. Hepburn received the endorsement of progressive firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez one week before the 2018 primary but is not expected to support Hepburn’s latest challenge publicly.
“I will be one of the boldest voices in Congress, as an activist for the entire district and as a champion for education, health care and economic justice for all,” Hepburn said. “This age of time demands nothing less.”
On this day
Sept. 10, 2001 — President George W. Bush was in Jacksonville promoting child reading initiatives. After reading to students at an elementary school, he had a public education forum with several local and state officials as well as members of the delegation.
He appeared with his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, Ocala Republican Cliff Stearns, Jacksonville Republican Ander Crenshaw and Education Commissioner Charlie Crist, among others. Bush finished his day flying to Sarasota, where he will hold a public event Tuesday at Emma E. Booker Elementary School.
Sept. 10, 2009 — Former Crist Chief of Staff George LeMieux was sworn in as Florida’s 34th Senator by Vice President Joe Biden before a group of 150 hometown well-wishers. LeMieux was appointed by Crist to serve out the remainder of the term of former Sen. Mel Martinez, who resigned in August.
LeMieux was escorted onto the Senate floor by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and former Republican Sen. Connie Mack, for whom LeMieux worked while attending Georgetown Law School. Crist wished LeMieux well saying: “I’m sure he will do great for the people of Florida.”