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Is impeachment inevitable?
Like it or not, impeachment will be the main topic of discussion in the halls of Congress and water coolers around the country. Before and after the release of the transcript of President Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the calls to “hold the President accountable” dramatically increased.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a “formal” impeachment inquiry was the culmination of rapidly-developing events and commentary.
Within 24 hours of Pelosi’s call, all 13 delegation Democrats were on board. By Thursday morning, 220 House Democrats favored impeachment or at least the formal inquiry.
The two members of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition were in lockstep with the more progressive members previously favoring impeachment or hearings. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, the Blue Dogs’ co-chair, said before the Pelosi announcement the speaker should appoint a Watergate-style “bipartisan select committee to immediately investigate abuse of executive power.”
The coalition’s other Florida member, St. Petersburg’s Charlie Crist, said, “Our Democracy is at stake, and we must act.”
Other more progressive members were on board for at least an impeachment inquiry weeks or months ago. Those include Reps. Val Demings of Orlando and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami.
Three members, Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, have previously voted for an impeachment resolution put forward in the House by Louisiana Democrat Al Green.
The last to announce was Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee who claims Trump confessed to breaking the law.
“The President’s recent admission that he engaged in unlawful conversations with Ukrainian officials is not only embarrassing, but undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office and threatens our national security,” Lawson said in a statement.
Republicans such as Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine called the move a rush to judgment.
“The decision to launch an investigation before learning the entire set of facts and hearing from the Director of National Intelligence is reckless,” referring to the fact that the transcript of the Trump/Zelensky call had not been released.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach went to the House floor to describe Pelosi’s actions as “blood lust” and added she was “catfished” by her most progressive members.
After release of the call transcript as well as the actual whistleblower complaint and the appearance of Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, the parties retreated to their respective corners. The call either proved, as Lawson alleges, the President committed a crime, or it proved there was no quid-pro-quo.
It also brought out a side issue involving an investigation into the origination of the Russia probe (see “DNC hacks” below). The complaint was revealed to be a detailed presentation of facts and analysis of the call and events surrounding it.
If impeachment goes forward, the jury would be the U.S. Senate. Mark both Florida Senators as “no” votes (see “impeachment skeptics” below).
Rubio, Scott impeachment skeptics
Both Florida Senators, who would be “jurors” should impeachment actually happen, quickly went on the record saying it should not. Florida’s junior Senator is actually raising money from the latest developments.
Sen. Rick Scott said Democrats were “rushing to judgment” with the call to fast-track the impeachment process. He made a fundraising pitch on Facebook, saying liberals “are trying to destroy our President.”
“Liberal Democrats in DC FINALLY announced their goal: impeaching Donald Trump,” Scott posted. “They’re on a mission to take down the President.”
He then followed with the fundraising pitch, asking for help to “fight back.”
Sen. Marco Rubio offered mild criticism of the President’s action on the call, but said Democrats are going too far. He called the act of asking Zelensky to investigate the Bidens “wrong,” but not impeachable.
“It is possible to do something that is wrong and not be an impeachable offense,” he said. “And people around here are throwing that term around so loosely it’s lost all meaning.”
Rubio promotes disaster relief
Four southern Republican Senators, including Rubio, have joined with California Democrats Kamala Harris and Diane Feinstein to introduce legislation designed to help victims of recent natural disasters.
The Hurricanes Florence and Michael and California Wildfire Tax Relief Act would allow taxpayers to use earned income from the preceding year when claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
“Families, businesses, and communities across our state are still recovering from recent natural disasters, including Northwest Florida communities that were devastated by Hurricane Michael almost one year ago,” Rubio said in a joint release. “Providing tax relief so Floridians can use their money to recover would further help those who are still rebuilding their lives and communities.”
The bill would also allow more taxpayers to claim a deduction for personal casualty losses by removing the requirement to itemize and encourage employers in hard-hit areas to retain employees.
Also signing on as co-sponsors were Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
Scott: Avoid Chinese products
While trade talks with China are an on-again-off-again proposition, Scott has a suggestion to help gain leverage. During an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box program, he offered a suggestion to help the U.S. to gain leverage.
“Stop buying Chinese products. That will have the biggest impact on their economy,” Scott said. “That’s the only thing that will force them to change what they’re doing. They don’t feel the pressure yet to change.”
Trade talks are scheduled to resume in October, but in the meantime, China has agreed to buy more U.S. pork. On the downside, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi insisted this week that “unreasonable restrictions” be lifted by the U.S.
He is likely referring to tariffs imposed by the Trump administration as well as crushing sanctions on Chinese communications giant Huawei. Scott insists this country must stay the course and start leading American consumers to other providers.
“There’s other countries to do business with,” Scott said. Unlike China, he added, those countries are not trying “annihilate” competitors.
Young activist leaves mark
Last week Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, appeared before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis before heading to New York to address the United Nations Climate Summit. In angry tones, she told world leaders “you have stolen my dreams” due to climate inaction.
Thunberg’s remarks inspired climate change supporters and activists. Detractors lamented her “being used” by adults, with some instances of verbal attacks.
“I hear you @GretaThunberg,” tweeted Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “And I hear all of the advocates and individuals fighting and raising awareness about environmental racism, climate change refugees and the grave & urgent need to take action NOW. I am in this fight with you.”
Trump took a more sarcastic approach tweeting “she seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see.” A conservative pundit, Michael Knowles, called her “mentally ill,” prompting an apology from Fox News.
Like the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, who became nationwide activists for gun control, climate advocates are hoping Thunberg can have the same effect. Coinciding with her U.S. appearances was a nationwide “climate strike” by young people.
Chemical abortion drugs targeted
While the number of abortions is trending downward, chemical abortion pills are still a concern. Recently, Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford co-sponsored a bill by Ohio Republican Bob Latta that addresses issues surrounding the use of chemical abortion pills.
The Support and Value Expectant Moms & Babies (SAVE) Act looks to prevent labeling changes for already approved abortion drugs, prevent providers from dispensing these drugs remotely, and prevent the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from approving new chemical abortion drugs.
“Chemical abortions kill an unborn child & pose major health risks to the mother, like severe bleeding, infection, & even death,” Rutherford said via Twitter. “I will continue to support the health of all individuals & fight to protect the sanctity of life, beginning at conception & ending in a natural death.”
“While the national abortion rate decline is a welcome sign, the dramatic rise in use of the abortion pill should worry pro-life activists and pro-abortion activists alike,” Latta said. “We know from patient testimonies and FDA studies that there is nothing simple or easy about the chemical abortion pill.
According to a 2017 report released by the Guttmacher Institute, the national abortion rate declined by eight percent from 2014, but the use of the abortion pill now accounts for 39 percent of all abortions — up from 29 percent in 2014. Chemical abortions, when compared to surgical abortions, have a higher complication rate and result in a higher rate of emergency room visits.
Waltz: Florida being shortchanged
There is concern Florida is being shortchanged when it comes to federal dollars for water projects. Last week Waltz questioned Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
The questions centered around the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), from which Waltz and others believe Florida is being denied millions of dollars annually for financing several water projects. Eligible projects include wastewater systems and treatment facilities, stormwater management, estuary projects and septic-to-sewer conversions.
“[The CWSRF] is a critical tool for Florida in addressing a number of our water challenges,” Waltz said. “There’s a massive disconnect in this fund.”
The CWSRF’s formula for determining state allotments has not been updated since 1987, and according to an EPA report to Congress in 2016, it does not meet the needs of most states. Florida has unique water challenges and has the third most significant water infrastructure needs in the country according to the Clean Watersheds Needs Survey conducted by the EPA.
In 2019, Florida received the third-lowest allotment per capita from the CWSRF program in the country.
NASA’s eventful summer
It has been an interesting spring and summer for NASA and those who seek to return astronauts to the moon and later to Mars. In March, Vice President Mike Pence pledged to return to the moon by 2024, but that timetable has challenges.
The excitement of July’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing has given way to the daunting challenge of a return within the next five years. During a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, a top NASA official sought to lower expectations in response to a question from Rockledge Republican Bill Posey.
“I wouldn’t bet my oldest child’s upcoming birthday present or anything like that,” said Bill Bowersox, NASA’s acting associate administrator for human exploration and operations.
The problem is the lack of a rocket, namely the Space Launch System or SLS. It is far behind schedule and over budget.
“I think all of us on this committee, and all of us who care about space exploration, are going to continue to make the case, and have continued to make the case, if not why this is worth the funding but why this is taking so much time, and so much effort, with so many delays, and so much money, frankly, to get back to where we were,” said Waltz.
While launching from Florida seems to be delayed, operating in space is further along. Earlier this week, NASA announced an agreement to spend $4.6 billion for six Orion spacecraft designed to take people to the moon and Mars, with six more slated for production by 2030.
“This contract secures Orion production through the next decade, demonstrating NASA’s commitment to establishing a sustainable presence at the moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a news release.
House passes Mast’s algae bill
The House of Representatives approved a bill Brian Mast introduced to force more federal assessments of Florida’s algal blooms, and included an amendment from Waltz also to address the chronic Indian River Lagoon pollution.
Mast’s South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act will require a task force within the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science to develop an assessment that examines the causes, consequences and potential approaches to reduce harmful algal blooms in the Everglades region, including how ongoing South Florida ecosystem restoration efforts are contributing.
Waltz’s amendment ensures that the entire Indian River Lagoon is included as contiguous coastal water.
Rubio is pushing the Senate version.
Rooney targets ‘union intimidation’
With the ongoing strike of General Motors by the United Auto Workers, labor relations have been part of the discussion during recent weeks. While this standoff has been peaceful so far, Naples Republican Francis Rooney seeks to target those union members who target nonunion workers with intimidation, physical violence or extortion.
Rooney recently introduced the Freedom From Union Violence Act, which he says will “hold union bosses who orchestrate and/or commit threats and violence accountable under the Hobbs Act.”
In an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner, Rooney explains his bill seeks to address a 1973 Supreme Court Emmons decision that ruled the use of robbery or extortion to disrupt interstate commerce is exempt from federal law “to achieve union objectives, such as higher wages.” He also fears a federal case against two union workers (described as “thugs”) accused of severely beating an Indiana worker will not produce justice due to the Supreme Court case.
“The union lawyers contended that the charges against (defendants) ‘should be dismissed because the facts alleged’ describe ‘legitimate union objectives,’ which were specifically exempted from the reach of the Hobbs Act by Enmons,” Rooney wrote. He further touted the need for his bill.
“This measure would overturn Enmons and hold union bosses who orchestrate and/or commit threats and violence accountable under the Hobbs Act,” he added. “Because Enmons was a matter of statutory, not constitutional, interpretation, Congress retains power to reverse it legislatively.”
The bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee chaired by New York Democrat Jerry Nadler. The chances it receives a hearing are slim.
Election security assurances sought
With the confirmation of at least two hacks into Florida voting systems in 2018, delegation Democrats wrote to Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee this week seeking information from her office on what the state has done in response. The letter, led by Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Murphy and signed by all 13 members, asked specific questions on steps taken by the state.
The letter referred to the report of special counsel Robert Mueller, which described Russian attempts to interfere in multiple states in 2016 and 2018. They referred to “multiple obstacles to casting their votes and having their votes counted.”
Specifically, the members sought information on the state’s efforts to enhance election security, address foreign disinformation efforts, whether new voting systems will properly process and count ballots, whether auditing systems will be installed to ensure accuracy of machine tabulations and what steps have been taken to make it easier to vote.
The members praised the state’s efforts so far to increase security through funding via the Help American Vote Act (HAVA).
“We must continue to work closely together to prepare for the 2020 elections and would greatly appreciate continued updates regarding the use of HAVA funds and implementation of new security measures,” they wrote.
2016 DNC hacks revisited
The release of the transcript chronicling the call between Trump and Zelensky featured two requests from Trump. The media and most of America are focused on Trump’s request to investigate the Bidens, but his first ask involves something that could revive a controversial episode for Wasserman Schultz.
Early in the conversation, Trump asked for a “favor,” which was to “find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike …” Trump indicated Ukraine has “the server” referring to the Democratic National Committee-hacked server that led to damaging revelations in 2016.
It is unknown how the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike fits into the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the origins of the recently-concluded Trump/Russia investigation or why Ukraine would have the server. The DNC hired the firm to secure their computers and systems as well as find out who was responsible for the hacks while Wasserman Schultz served as DNC chair.
Former FBI Director James Comey said the DNC refused permission for the FBI to access the hacked servers shortly after the hacking was discovered, turning to CrowdStrike instead. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the DNC also refused his agency’s help.
Wasserman Schultz hotly disputed the contentions of both, but especially Johnson, saying he was “utterly misinformed.” It appears the DOJ investigation may be dredging up the three-year-old controversy.
Student credit bills filed
A negative credit history can cause multiple problems for years. In an effort to assist those having problems with federal student loans, Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell joined with Michigan Democrat Haley Stevens to help introduced two separate bills called the Clean Slate through Consolidation Act and the Clean Slate through Repayment Act.
The bills look to remove default records from the credit history of federal student loan borrowers who have consolidated their defaulted loan or repaid the loan in full. A record of default on a borrower’s credit history can have a severe and long-lasting impact on their financial situation.
“If we’re serious about helping Americans obtain higher education and achieve financial independence, we should be helping people who are making efforts to repay their loans repair their credit,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “Student loan defaults have a disproportionate effect on people of color who are simply trying to unlock the American dream — they should not be punished for that.”
Those who take out federal student loans usually pursue full repayment, loan rehabilitation, or loan consolidation to relieve themselves of default. Each of those options remove the default status, only borrowers who complete the loan rehabilitation process will have the record of default from their credit history.
On this day
Sept. 27, 1986 — A rare occurrence occurred when two members of the United States Supreme Court were sworn in. Taking their oaths were Justice William Rehnquist, who was elevated to the role of the 16th chief justice, and Antonin Scalia, who joined the court as the 103rd justice.
President Ronald Reagan praised both as judges who practice “judicial restraint.” Outgoing Chief Justice Warren Burger swore in Rehnquist, who then gave the oath of office to Scalia. The Senate voted 65-33 to confirm Rehnquist while Scalia sailed through by a 98-0 vote.
Sept. 27, 2016 — Those expecting a rhetorical brawl in the first presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton were not shortchanged. The two attacked each other frequently during the 90-minute event held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
Trump credited Clinton with having experience, but “the country can’t afford to have another four years of that experience.” Clinton accused Trump of sexism for questioning her stamina saying, “This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs.”
Happy birthday (Sept. 27) to Rep. Wasserman Schultz.