More 9/12 needed
As it does every year, this week provided the most somber day most Americans experience. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 are etched into the memories of both young and old and, to a lesser extent, so are the displays of camaraderie that followed on September 12.
One day after the attacks, party affiliations were forgotten and members gathered on the Capitol steps to sing God Bless America. This week, House members sought to recreate that moment, when they formed a bipartisan choir to sing the same song and pause for a moment of silence.
Elected officials shared their views either on social media, through statements or during commemorative events. President Donald Trump went to the Pentagon to remember those lost.
“For every American who lived through that day, the Sept. 11 attack is seared into our soul,” Trump said. “It was a day filled with shock, horror, sorrow, and righteous fury.”
He also warned the Taliban and terrorists around the world that if the U.S. is attacked again, America will “hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hurt before and that will continue.” Multiple news organizations chose to fact-check his comments.
Vice President Mike Pence was in Shanksville, Penn. where United Flight 93 went down. Remembering those who may have saved another target in Washington, Pence said they are “carved into the hearts and memories of the American people.”
Delegation members offered their recollections as well. Palm City Republican Brian Mast said, “no amount of evil could tear our country apart,” while West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel honored those who were lost “as well as their loved ones whose lives were changed forever on that day.”
Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy remembered those who died while “we reflect upon the tremendous sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made since then on our behalf. Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said the “strength and resilience of our nation was put to the ultimate test, but never faltered.”
Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said, “While the images of smoke & rubble will be forever etched into our memory, we remember the 3,000 lives stolen that day & honor the bravery of all first responders.”
Dover Republican Ross Spano passed along the message of the day from something he had read earlier.
“The best way we could ever honor those lost on 9/11 is to live each day like Sept. 12.”
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Red flag law urged
With the House set to pass three additional gun measures (see “three gun bills” below), the clamoring for Senate action grows louder. The White House was working on a proposal that would include what Trump supports, a demand of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before any gun control legislation would come to the floor.
Sen. Marco Rubio again pitched a “red flag” bill he launched in January with Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Maine Independent Sen. Angus King. In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Rubio writes that “Red-flag laws empower law enforcement or family members to use the judicial system to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”
He cited the success of red flag efforts in Florida following the mass shootings in Parkland. Rubio also threw a bone to those who believe such action violates the Constitution or others reticent to take a position contrary to that of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“The laws do not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners,” he said. “In order for a state to be eligible for funding under our proposal, it would be required to enact strong due process protections and include a felony penalty for false reporting.”
Rubio was talking to his fellow Senators and perhaps to Trump. With the House already passing red flag legislation earlier in the week, he made an appeal for bipartisanship on an issue that is enjoying broad support in opinion polls.
“Bipartisan consensus is growing that this type of law would be a part of the solution, and we have the blueprint needed to put them in place,” he added. “It’s time to ACT.”
Bolton ouster surprises Senators
The abrupt firing of John Bolton as National Security Adviser was not a surprise that it happened, but many on Capitol Hill did not expect it so quickly. Among those caught unaware were Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott.
Scott indicated he had a meeting scheduled with Bolton this week on the topic of Venezuela before Trump’s tweet notifying the country of the change. Rubio also professed a good working relationship with Bolton on Venezuela.
“I did not see it,” Scott said when a reporter informed him of Bolton’s ouster. “I have a good working relationship with Bolton.
“I hope that they [the White House] can continue to commit to doing everything we can to get rid of Maduro. I’ve had a very good working relationship with Bolton whether it’s talking about Venezuela, Cuba or Hong Kong.”
Bolton had a reputation as being aggressive against American foes, which made most Democrats and some Republicans fearful of his influence. Like Scott, Rubio had no problems with him.
“I don’t know, nor do I know enough about what the circumstances were behind it, so we’ll obviously see here in the next few days,” Rubio said. “It’s my personal view that he did a good job, but he didn’t work for me, he worked for the President.”
One of the Republicans pleased by Bolton’s ouster was Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
“The threat of war worldwide goes down exponentially with John Bolton out of the White House,” Paul said, calling Bolton’s “advocacy for regime change around the world a naive worldview.”
Bolton disputed the notion he was fired. He said he resigned.
Confusion on impeachment
Confusion reigned this week following the House Judiciary Committee’s vote to approve parameters surrounding their “inquiry” on whether to impeach the President. Both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are against impeachment, but Hoyer added to the confusion by saying no inquiry was underway, only to later backtrack.
Leave it to Orlando Democrat Val Demings, a committee member, to help set the record straight about a resolution to begin that inquiry officially.
“If anyone is confused about @HouseJudiciary’s intention, let there be no more doubt,” she tweeted. (Thursday’s) resolution, like our previous actions, states explicitly that our purpose is to consider impeaching President Trump — an action I support.”
Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, also a committee member, blasted the committee vote.
“House Democrats are perverting the Founding Fathers’ legitimate safeguards against the Executive Branch for political gain,” he said in a statement. “They have abandoned their responsibilities conferred upon them as Judiciary members and have subjected the American people to a protracted political battle, instead of focusing on issues that matter to the nation.”
Other committee Republicans accused Democrats of changing the rules to get their way, but Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, the delegation’s senior member on the committee, said it was the GOP that changed the rules four years ago. Deutch also said the inquiry was already underway even before approving the resolution.
“Thursday’s resolution merely establishes additional procedures to facilitate our ongoing impeachment investigation,” he tweeted.
Gaetz, Shalala join forces
The use of medical cannabis is growing, but two bipartisan delegation members from opposite corners of the state are looking for increasing its benefits. Gaetz and Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala have introduced the Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act.
The bill would have cannabis research placed on the national agenda and would direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to record data on the health impacts of cannabis. Additionally, they would establish a National Institute of Health “Centers of Excellence” research designation and reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III controlled substance.
It is currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, along with narcotics such as Heroin, Ecstasy, quaalude, Bath Salts, LSD and others.
“This bipartisan and bicameral legislation will improve, expedite and streamline cannabis research,” Gaetz said. “By rescheduling cannabis to Schedule III, this bill will lessen the conflict between states and the federal government, and by designating “Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research,” it will help unlock cures for America’s most vulnerable populations.”
As it stands, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis use, while 33 states have legalized medical cannabis use. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance with no therapeutic benefit.
“By rescheduling cannabis and directing our national research infrastructure to study and collect data on how it impacts health outcomes, we are not only bringing federal cannabis policy into the 21st century, but we’re also guaranteeing that we do so safely,” Shalala said.
The sponsors maintain enacting this bill would allow for a drastic increase in research around the potential health benefits and public safety impacts of cannabis use.
Yoho praises protesters
For the past few months, protests in Hong Kong over a new law permitting extradition of criminals, or even protesters, to China have rocked the city. Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho, the leading Republican on the House Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, previously joined his colleagues in support of the protesters.
After the protests grew to the size of being able to shut down the airport and block traffic, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam finally withdrew the controversial legislation last week. Yoho applauded the move, but also congratulated the Chinese for accepting reality.
“I commend Beijing for recognizing the underlying cause of the massive protests and pulling the bill,” Yoho said in a statement. “These protests sent a strong message to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Xi Jinping, a message which reinforced that rule of law is paramount to the preservation of freedom and democracy.”
A handover agreement between Great Britain and China gave Beijing nominal control over Hong Kong, but residents would also have freedoms not enjoyed by everyday mainland Chinese.
The United States-Hong Kong Policy Act, enacted in 1992, committed the U.S. to back a “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong and insisted the “human rights of the people of Hong Kong are of great importance to the United States.”
“Without rule of law, Hong Kong would not be the economic powerhouse that it is today, home to thousands of multinational corporations and one of the highest economic freedom indexes in the world,” Yoho added.”
Yoho has also previously served as vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has been a staunch opponent of the Chinese regime and a strong supporter of Taiwan.
Webster lauds Trump, EPA
In what will be a highly-controversial move, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it is repealing the Obama-era clean water rule and is writing a new rule. Clermont Republican Daniel Webster is praising Trump and the EPA for doing so.
The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation was established in 2015 and came under immediate criticism from conservatives and businesses for being too broad and encroachment into powers delegated to Congress. The Trump administration rule is to cover fewer waterways and remove federal regulation of groundwater and stormwater control features.
“I applaud President Trump for his administration taking action and repealing the Waters of the United States or WOTUS rule,” Webster said in a statement. “President Obama’s administration did not have the legal authority to implement this rule in the first place. It was an unconstitutional move by the previous administration to circumvent Congress.”
In some instances, business owners faced fines of $50,000 per day for violations. Republican Senators Mike Braun of Indiana and Joni Ernst of Iowa have introduced legislation codifying the Trump rollbacks.
Crist hosts cannabis forum
Despite opposition from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the use of medical cannabis, many veterans who suffered physical and mental injury swear by its effectiveness. Earlier this week, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist hosted a forum to discuss how prohibiting the use of medical cannabis would affect veterans.
The mental & physical well-being of our brave veterans should come first! Proud to host Veterans Cannabis Panel with @VetsCannaCoal to discuss importance of cannabis access for our vets. #ForThePeople pic.twitter.com/XyobVIXxKi
— Rep. Charlie Crist (@RepCharlieCrist) September 10, 2019
He was joined by the Veterans Cannabis Panel alongside the Veterans Cannabis Coalition to hear stories from veterans who may have to choose between a well-paying job or stopping the use of medical cannabis such as Cannabidiol (CBD).
“The mental & physical well-being of our brave veterans should come first!” Crist tweeted. “Proud to host Veterans Cannabis Panel with @VetsCannaCoal to discuss the importance of cannabis access for our vets.”
CBD contains small amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is almost completely unregulated. In short, people who use CBD regularly could fail a urine panel for THC and could cost people their jobs.
“Veterans are often placated with “cocktails” of prescription drugs, including powerful and addictive opiates,” a Veterans Cannabis Project spokesman said. “Medical cannabis is a proven, safe, and common-sense personal health management option, free of the devastating side effects of opiate-based drugs.”
Studies conducted on the effectiveness of cannabis suggest that access to cannabis could reduce opiate addiction among veterans.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, around 20 percent of the 2.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will experience post-traumatic stress or depression.
Good taps familiar name
Two years ago, Margaret Good tapped Kevin Lata to run her state House campaign against James Buchanan. After pulling off that upset, Good is now challenging Rep. Vern Buchanan, the father of James, for Buchanan’s District 16 seat.
This week, she again tapped Lata to run her campaign. Both are looking for lightning to strike twice.
“Kevin is a proven leader who is committed to building the kind of people-powered campaign that shows up for voters in every part of the district and engages on the issues that matter to Floridians, like health care, a strong economy and water quality,” Good said.
Since they last worked together, Lata has worked as an Iowa field director for the presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He worked for Sanders’ 2016 campaign before joining Good on her successful run in 2018.
Latta’s expertise is fieldwork, otherwise known as a “ground game.” In 2016, the campaign knocked on 42,000 doors and placed 128,000 phone calls. The ultimate turnout of 36 percent for that special election was a state record.
“We’re going to have a sprawling presence in Sarasota and Manatee and Hillsborough, every single corner of the district,” Lata said. “That’s what it takes to be successful, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) was unimpressed, saying Good has “doubled down on socialism” by touting Lata’s link to Sanders.
Mast touts VA bill
During his first term, Mast became the first member of Congress to open a field office in a veterans’ hospital. Mast sought to provide more efficient service to veterans by opening the office in West Palm Beach, leading Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto to follow suit with one in Lake Nona.
Citing the red tape it takes to have more of their colleagues follow suit, they teamed to file the Improving Veterans Access to Congressional Services Act as a way to expedite the process. In effect, the bill calls for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make it happen if a member of Congress asks.
Earlier this week, Mast and Soto were part of a group testifying before a House panel about the merits of the policy their bill seeks to expand. Along with serving the needs of the veterans, Mast pointed out during his testimony that it also allows hospital staff to report problems or irregularities surrounding veterans’ care.
“It’s given an outlet to VA staff who want to report issues that they’ve witnessed, but are otherwise too frightened to do so,” Mast said, “but are happy that we are there on the ground so that when they tell us some things that are going on, we can then go and put our own eyes on the issue and see for ourselves.”
In addition to Soto, bill co-sponsors include Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Greg Steube of Sarasota, as well as Lawson.
One day after the meeting, the VA put steps in motion to evict the members from existing offices (see “VA booting” below).
VA booting members
If the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wants to pick fights with members of Congress, it might not have been wise to start with Mast, a disabled combat veteran who’s taken a leading role nationally for veterans’ support.
But this week the VA advised Mast, Kissimmee Democrat Soto and four other members of Congress nationally that it has decided it doesn’t want members of Congress to have constituent services offices in VA hospitals anymore. They’re all being evicted, effective the end of the year. The VA said it needs the space for medical care.
Mast has an office in the West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Soto in the Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lake Nona. And they both share their offices there with other area members of Congress whose constituents use those hospitals. Together they offer services ranging from helping veterans get through VA red tape to identifying post-treatment opportunities, to providing general constituent services provided at any congressional field office.
Mast sees the eviction as the VA’s attempt to keep members of Congress from being so nosy.
Mast, Soto, Murphy, Deutch, and Miramar Democrat Alcee Hastings are fighting back.
“There’s nobody who’s been hurt by this,” Mast said of the congressional offices in VA hospitals. “People have only been benefited by this. Veterans have been benefited by this. I get that the VA doesn’t want us breathing down their neck. But that’s exactly why it should happen. They’ve proven why with the failures across the country.”
Permanent drilling ban passes
The issue of drilling for oil and gas off the Florida coast seems to reemerge on an annual basis, but a bill to place a temporary moratorium on the practice passed the House earlier this week. The House approved the Protecting and Securing Florida’s coastline Act of 2019 by a 248-180 vote.
Naples Republican Francis Rooney and Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor sponsored the bill, which would make the current moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic coast and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico permanent. The legislation had 18 co-sponsors that included 12 bipartisan members of the delegation.
“It shows how unified in Florida we really are,” Rooney said. “The threat from spills to the environment, economy, and quality of life transcends other arguments.”
Among the 248 votes were 22 Republicans, including 13 from Florida. Yoho was the only “no” vote, siding with those who say such bans threaten the country’s relatively new status of being energy independent.
Castor celebrated the bill’s passage while slamming the Trump administration’s policy.
“The Trump administration’s efforts to expand offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico threaten to coat our beaches with oil, increase carbon pollution and exacerbate the climate crisis,” she said in a news release. “By passing my Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act to ban offshore drilling in the Gulf, we are safeguarding our way of life in Florida.”
Another drilling bill, the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act, also passed the House on the same day by a 238-189 vote. The legislation, which included Rooney and several delegation Democrats serving as co-sponsors, would prevent drilling off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Joining Democrats and Rooney in voting for this bill was Gaetz, Buchanan, Mast, John Rutherford of Jacksonville, and Michael Waltz of St. Augustine.
Both now head for the Senate where uncertain fates await.
Hastings spotlights homelessness
The growing problem of homelessness is gaining greater attention in the media and among regular Americans. Visuals from cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle are driving the coverage, but those living on the street are in Florida communities as well.
The Congressional Homeless Caucus, co-chaired by Hastings, its founder, hosted a Capitol Hill briefing this week titled Chronic Homelessness and Mental Health. Hastings said a situation where men, women and children live on the streets is something Americans should not accept.
“Homelessness is still a serious problem in the United States, and mental illness affects a significant proportion of this population,” Hastings said in a release. “There is a pressing need to further evaluate these overlapping issues and use effective, understanding, and humane ways to bridge the gap. It is clear that mental health programs should provide plans for both treatment and housing.
Hastings was joined by Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson, the caucus co-chair, and representatives of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and New Hope Housing, Inc.
Three gun bills advance
As promised, the House of Representatives began marking up gun control bills almost immediately upon returning to Washington. The House Judiciary Committee sent out three bills for consideration by the full house.
One was the Keep Americans Safe Act, sponsored by Deutch. This bill would ban the sale of high capacity ammunition magazines used in some of the recent mass shootings. All delegation Democrats signed on as co-sponsors.
Deutch described the bill as “the kind of common-sense gun safety measures the American people are demanding, including our bill to ban high-capacity magazines like the one used by the shooter in Dayton to murder nine people in just 32 seconds. The fact is, high capacity magazines are designed for one thing — high capacity killing.”
Another was a bill known as a “red flag” law. The Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) Act would temporarily keep guns out of the hands of those who are deemed a threat to themselves or others.
“Congress can and must do more to address gun violence in our country,” said Deutch. “This bill is bipartisan and has already proven to work in several states.
Deutch joined Hastings, Soto, Castor, Shalala, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson as co-sponsors. Rubio has a similar bill pending in the Senate.
The third measure would prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from possessing firearms.
Capitol Hill fireworks
A fiery hearing on immigration policy rocked the Rayburn Office Building on Sept. 11 as the House Committee on Oversight and Reform discussed policy toward sick undocumented migrants. It became deeply personal when former acting ICE Director Tom Homan and Wasserman Schultz squared off.
The Weston Democrat took issue with some of Homan’s characterizations of the policy known as “deferred action.” It got personal from there.
“I think it’s important to really make sure that the jingoistic, bigoted testimony of Mr. Homan is called out as nearly completely untrue, as being an outrage, and as a former official directing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, he should know better,” she said.
This enraged Homan, who later responded to her comment during questioning from Ohio Republican Jim Jordan. Homan pointedly referred to Wasserman Schultz by her last name only.
“If I can respond to the earlier remark from Wasserman Schultz, I’ve forgotten more about this issue than you’ll ever know,” he said. “So, if you say my testimony is inaccurate, it’s wrong. Everything I said here is accurate.”
Homan had other heated exchanges with other Democrats on the committee including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who was the acting chair at the time.
On this day
Sept. 13, 1993 — Mortal enemies signed a historic agreement in the White House Rose Garden as President Bill Clinton stood nearby. Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat agreed on the Oslo Accords, a peace deal that is hoped to end the decadeslong conflict between the two.
While Clinton and most Americans celebrated the deal, some delegation members, including two from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, want other countries to step up with financial support. Lauderhill Democrat Peter Deutsch stated the U.S. “should not take the lead” in financial aid, while Boynton Beach Democrat Harry Johnston said, “our role (hosting the agreement signing) is exactly what we did today.”
Sept. 13, 2000 — Vice President Al Gore surged into a tie with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, according to the latest Mason-Dixon poll of Florida voters. Bush now leads Gore by only 45-43 percent, with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader earning 2 percent.
The selection of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman as a running mate is credited with helping Gore’s poll improvement. Political analysts said Jewish voters were “coming home” to Democrats, highly important to winning Florida with its large Jewish population.