Attacks heighten oil concerns
The coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil production will have some ramifications in this country. Oil prices are rising and will likely have some effect at the pump.
What happens next? President Donald Trump says the U.S. is “locked and loaded” following the attacks, but only he knows what that means.
Despite a claim of responsibility for the attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the U.S. is not buying it. Instead, they are coming around to the notion that Iran is behind it.
While this is becoming a more serious global concern by the day, the politics of oil production are likely to play out in the coming days. It is especially true of Florida, where energy production is fine elsewhere, but not here.
Trump gets much of the credit and the blame for enhanced oil and gas drilling as well as underground “fracking.” Those agreeing with the desire to make the U.S. not only energy-independent but also an oil exporter, are pleased.
The President authorized dipping into the Strategic Oil Reserve to make up any shortfall, or to keep gas prices relatively stable. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said it is “premature” to speculate whether that step will be needed.
On the other hand, plenty believes the reliance on fossil fuels must go down along with fossil fuel production. Will the weekend’s events in the Middle East put those arguments on hold?
Last week, the House passed three bills, including one specific to Florida, that would end oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts In a tweet, Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings said, “House & Senate Republicans can stick their heads in the tar sands all they want, but pumping more fossil fuels will only keep us stuck in the times! #Protect Our Coasts.”
Republicans have expanded opportunities to drill elsewhere, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. The sale of leases in the region was made possible by the insertion of language into the 2017 tax cut legislation by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Just last week, the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill banning drilling in ANWR by a 225-193 vote. While all but one Florida Republican (Ted Yoho) voted for the Florida ban, only Rep. Francis Rooney voted for the Alaska ban.
Republicans and conservatives will argue that an even bigger attack than the one carried out in Saudi Arabia would leave the U.S. vulnerable to 1970s-era shortages unless production continues at the current pace. Democrats will point to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that caused severe environmental and economic damage to coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico.
Saudi Arabia’s ability to resume production and exports in the coming days will go a long way to driving the political discussion over the coming weeks and months. Both sides will be watching closely.
Gang of 13
Pressure from Democrats on gun control continues unabated. Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would make Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have “hell to pay” if the Senate refused to vote on House-approved gun control bills.
An analysis conducted by The Hill postulates that 13 Senators will decide whether gun control passes the Senate if Trump endorses it. McConnell said he would not bring any bill to a vote unless the President signs off in advance.
Among those 13 Senators is Marco Rubio. While he is not front and center on background checks, he is sponsoring a “red flag” bill that would temporarily confiscate guns from those deemed dangerous by a court.
Democrats are, however, insisting on enhanced background checks similar to those contained in a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Rubio does not rule out background checks but thinks his bill represents the better choice.
“I just think it would be more effective. If we knew who the people were that were a threat and were able to get to them before they took action, that would be far more effective in preventing the tragedies that have brought us to this point. And I also think it’s a bill that can pass,” he said.
Sen. Rick Scott was not included among the 13, but his position is similar to that of Rubio. Scott supports red flag bills — he signed Florida’s law while Governor — but has expressed skepticism on universal background checks.
Charitable giving bill proposed
Among the suggestions offered to assist Bahamian victims of Hurricane Dorian was financial and tax incentives for Americans to donate to a fund designed to assist. That suggestion is now in legislation offered in both chambers.
In the Senate, Rubio, Scott, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson filed the Hurricane Dorian Charitable Giving Act. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is filing companion legislation in the House.
“The unprecedented level of destruction in the Bahamas caused by Hurricane Dorian is being met with an outpouring of support from communities in Florida and across our nation,” Rubio said in a joint release. “I am proud to join Sen. Scott in introducing the Hurricane Dorian Charitable Giving Act to increase the charitable contributions limit given for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts.”
If enacted, the bill would temporarily suspend the current limitations on qualified charitable contributions for individuals and corporations given for relief efforts related to Hurricane Dorian. The increased limitation would apply to qualified contributions made for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts between Aug. 24, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2019.
“Our friends in the Bahamas have a long road to recovery, and I am working to make sure they have the support they need,” said Scott. “One thing we can do to help today is get rid of any restriction on the amount an individual or business can give toward recovery efforts. I’m proud to work with Sen. Rubio and Congressman Diaz-Balart on this common-sense proposal.”
Diaz-Balart saluted those who have stepped forward with monetary contributions and other assistance and cited the need for the legislation.
“Many Americans have already stepped up to assist the people of the Bahamas, and many more are looking for ways to help,” he said. “This important legislation will remove obstacles to their charitable giving and make it easier for charities to continue their important efforts in saving lives and rebuilding the Bahamas.”
Dems: Don’t forget Venezuela
With so many hot spots around the globe, the still dire situation in Venezuela has slipped off the radar. Tweets and statements from both U.S. Senators and Diaz-Balart frequently emerge, but the intense public support for U.S.-backed “interim” President Juan Guaidó has ebbed.
Though Republicans are thought to have an advantage on this issue, South Florida Democrats, joined by Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto, are now a significant part of the conversation. Last week, Soto urged support in the Senate for a bill he sponsored with Diaz-Balart calling for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans fleeing the chaos.
“Sen. Rubio is a co-sponsor of the (Senate) bill, and we applaud him for that,” Soto said. “Scott has said positive things. There were a lot of promises made, and we’re still a year and a half away from the end of the term. I’m hoping they will.”
Scott’s communications director, Chris Hartline said, “Sen. Scott has been clear that he supports TPS for Venezuelans, but the program needs to be reformed.”
Last week’s firing of National Security Adviser John Bolton pleased some on both sides of the aisle, but Scott and Rubio praised the departed firebrand for his commitment to change in Venezuela. Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala want Bolton’s replacement to make Venezuela a top priority.
In a letter to Trump, the lawmakers urged the President to appoint someone committed to “placing pressure on the (Nicolás) Maduro regime” and they “continue to ask you to exercise your authority to grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans.”
They also mentioned the Venezuela-related bills, including Soto’s, seeking to help the beleaguered country’s population. They described it as the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere.”
Gaetz trolls ‘swamp creatures’
Last week, word leaked that federal prosecutors have recommended that former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe be prosecuted. He is in legal jeopardy for improperly authorizing a leak about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation, then lying to the FBI about it.
The Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz reported McCabe was untruthful to former FBI Director James Comey, which McCabe and his attorneys dispute. It led Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, a reliable critic of both, to revel in the dispute involving “swamp creatures.”
“McCabe said, ‘Well, Comey knew about all these things.’ Comey disputes that,” Gaetz told Fox News’ Ed Henry. “Now we’ve got some of the swamp creatures chewing on each other for once.”
It is not certain whether McCabe, who was recently hired by CNN as an analyst, will ultimately face charges. A grand jury, which is yet to be empaneled, would need to return an indictment.
“The facts have Andrew McCabe dead to rights,” Gaetz said. “He lied to Comey, he lied to the inspector general, and he lied to the internal affairs investigators who determined he had authorized the release of information that disclosed the work that was being done regarding the Clinton Foundation.”
He concluded by saying the law needs to apply “equally to everyone.”
Veterans’ dental care sought
Currently, the only veterans authorized to receive dental care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are those totally disabled or have a service-related disability. Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis has been pushing to expand those eligible, and he recently reported progress.
In late May, Bilirakis reintroduced the “Veterans Early Treatment for Chronic Ailment Resurgence through Examinations Act (VET CARE) which would expand dental care for veterans while simultaneously creating a four-year pilot program. He is among the senior members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
He recently had the opportunity to present his bill to subcommittee overseeing health, an essential early step.
“Our veterans have sacrificed so much on behalf of our country, they deserve access to high-quality health care, and that includes dental care,” Bilirakis said. “The VET CARE Act will get the ball rolling to expand access to dental care for our nation’s heroes, and could result in lower overall health care costs for the VA.”
He originally proposed the bill in March 2017 while serving as vice chairman of the committee when Republicans were in the majority. The bill is co-sponsored by Hastings and Republicans Brian Mast of Palm City and Greg Steube of Sarasota.
Blue Dogs change subject
As Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee press on with keeping impeachment in the daily news cycle, others seek to keep the focus on pocketbook issues. As the committee voted to conduct an inquiry, moderate Democrats were pushing a different message.
On the same day as the committee vote, Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition warned their colleagues that their message is in danger of being consumed by impeachment. Several members branched out to give media interviews and discuss issues other than impeachment on social media and in floor speeches.
Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy, the co-chair of the coalition, pointed to an internal Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) survey that had mixed news for Democrats.
The survey indicated leads over Republicans on issues, intensity, the generic congressional ballot and head-to-head matchups with Trump. The caution comes with 54 percent of Democrats perceiving their party’s priority is investigating Trump, while 10 percent actually believe that should be the case.
That frustrates Murphy, who believes the party’s best chance for broad electoral success, and achieving important policy victories rests with sticking with the issues. She points to election security, an issue that enjoys broad support. Murphy and St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz introduced legislation in July involving hacking.
“I certainly think that the election security elements of the Mueller report have not been given a due amount of coverage and awareness that’s necessary,” Murphy told reporters last week.
Spano gets another challenger
A potentially strong Democratic primary for House District 15 is shaping up with the announcement by former television reporter and anchor Alan Cohn that he would enter the race. Republican Rep. Ross Spano is running or a second term.
Cohn will battle state Rep Adam Hattersley of Riverview for the right to take on Spano. While Hattersley is an up-and-coming player in Democratic politics, Cohn is probably the more recognizable face and name between the two.
He was seen regularly on WFTS Channel 28, before joining WWSB in Sarasota and later starting a media consulting company. Cohn said he plans to focus on the economy “like a laser beam,” but will also call out Spano as “damaged and ineffective.”
“My unique background makes me the best candidate to deliver that message,” Cohn said. “The distinction is clear — a first-term congressman under federal investigation for campaign finance fraud against an award-winning investigative reporter who’s made a career of chasing unethical politicians.”
It will not be Cohn’s first venture into political campaigns. He unsuccessfully ran against Spano’s predecessor, Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross, in 2014.
Among Cohn’s journalism awards was a Peabody Award in 2007. Spano is under scrutiny for $180,000 in personal loans he received during the 2018 campaign.
Hattersley may have something to say about who will match up against Spano.
House movement on background?
Could moderate Republicans start to move on gun control? Two Southwest Florida Republicans, Vern Buchanan and Rooney, signaled in different ways they would like to see universal background checks move forward in some fashion.
Buchanan, a co-chair of the Florida Delegation, issued his own legislative agenda on Sept. 10, and background checks made the list of 11 issues on importance. That’s not a huge shock as Buchanan cast one of eight Republican votes in favor of such checks earlier this year. Now, he said he has personally urged McConnell to take up the House bill.
Rooney, meanwhile, spoke to Florida Politics about the passage of an offshore drilling ban in the House. He stressed the significance of Republicans voting on common-sense environmental protection, then dropped a suggestion on gun control as well.
“It’s the same thing with guns,” Rooney said. “We have to be ready to talk about some issues like background checks.” Notably, Rooney voted against the background check Buchanan supported in February, but his comments signal a willingness to engage future legislation.
He suggested officials need only look at young people’s stance on the issue to know the party can’t oppose even popular regulations on firearms. If Republicans remain recalcitrant to any discussion, voters, Rooney said, will leave the party behind.
VA showdown coming?
Last week’s eviction notice sent by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to six members of Congress is far from over. The notice came one day after Mast and Soto appeared at a Congressional hearing urging support for the bill.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie sided with his agency managers in the eviction notices. The VA said they need space for medical reasons.
Soto believes the bill he co-sponsors with Mast, which calls for more Congressional offices in VA medical facilities, is now even more important. One of the reasons cited for the evictions was a lack of Congressional authority.
He shares the office at the Lake Nona VA Medical Center with Murphy. Soto says it has been a “smashing success.”
During his presentation at the hearing, Mast stated VA staff has been free to share with him what they thought were irregularities. The easy access to the Congressional office was cited as a reason.
Soto would not go as far as to accuse the VA of using that to throw them out, but he described the VA’s action as “senseless.”
“It couldn’t possibly be about a space issue,” he said. “These offices aren’t much bigger than broom closets. This has to be about something else. I think there’s some friction. I’m not going to speculate because there are many theories on this.”
Sharing a West Palm Beach office in the VA medical facility are Democrats Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Hastings.
Steube backs cannabis reclassification
Last week, Shalala and Gaetz filed legislation to facilitate more research into the benefits of medical marijuana. One of the provisions calls for reclassifying cannabis from a schedule 1 narcotic to schedule 3 that would bring users into full compliance with federal law.
Later in the week, Steube filed another bill that focuses clearly on reclassifying cannabis. The Marijuana 1-to-3 Act of 2019 is a single-subject bill.
“By rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded,” Steube said in a news release.” With this rescheduling, researchers can now access federal funds to research this substance and determine its medical value.”
The bill directs the Attorney General of the United States to make changes to the Controlled Substances Act to move marijuana from schedule I of the Act to Schedule III of the Act. While current Attorney General William Barr has not spoken out on his view on enforcing the current law, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly stated his mission of fully enforcing marijuana as a Schedule 1.
“Whether it’s young children with seizure disorders, or veterans suffering from chronic pain, it is clear that there are medical benefits to marijuana and I think it’s time we remove the bureaucratic red tape that prevents us from thoroughly studying this substance,” Steube added.
The bill heads for the Judiciary Committee, where both Steube and Gaetz are members.
Regulating the cosmetic industry
The cosmetics industry is among the least regulated sectors in the country. A new bill co-sponsored by two Florida Democrats seeks to change that.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019 would establish a robust regulatory framework to ensure the safety of cosmetics and personal care products. Among the co-sponsors are Hastings and Wasserman Schultz.
Hastings announced his cosponsorship via Twitter saying the bill’s purpose is “to ensure that toxic ingredients don’t make their way into our personal care products, avoid #animaltesting, & protect highly exposed & vulnerable populations!”
Pleased to join @janschakowsky in introducing H.R. 4296, the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019, to ensure that toxic ingredients don’t make their way into our personal care products, avoid #animaltesting, & protect highly exposed & vulnerable populations!
— Alcee L. Hastings (@RepHastingsFL) September 13, 2019
According to a release from Schakowsky, the bill would also close major loopholes in federal law that allows companies to use nearly any ingredient in these products. The $84 billion cosmetics industry uses roughly 12,500 unique chemical ingredients in personal care products, and the vast majority has never been assessed for safety by any publicly accountable body.
Under provisions in the bill, manufacturers for the first time would be required to register with the FDA and disclose all the ingredients in their products, including secret fragrance ingredients. The new authority would be given to the FDA to recall unsafe products and remove them from the market while providing public notice of recalls.
On this day
Sept. 17, 1978 — What is described as a “framework for peace” was announced from Camp David by President Jimmy Carter. A peace agreement signed by Egypt President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin calls for Israel to remove its troops from the West Bank of the Jordan River and allow those Palestinians to self-govern.
Egypt, who has a history of bitter and bloody confrontations with Israel, will also regain sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula and will make peace with Israel. A potential hang-up is the fate of Israeli settlements constructed in Sinai.
Sept. 17, 2008 — Concerns over U.S. financial markets intensified with a 449-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the only major investment banks still standing amid the wreckage of Wall Street’s old order, tottered.
The crisis is rocking the campaign trail as Sen. Barack Obama mocked Sen. John McCain’s recent statement that “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.” McCain is changing course by now backing an $85 billion bailout of insurance giant AIG saying, “the focus of any such action should be to protect the millions of Americans who hold insurance policies, retirement plans and other accounts with AIG.”
Happy birthday (Sept. 16) to Rep. Stephanie Murphy.