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Impeach like it’s 1999?
With each passing day, the atmosphere on Capitol Hill, if not around the country, is beginning to look and sound like 1998-99. Then, as now, calls for the impeachment of a sitting President of the United States grow louder as summer turned to autumn.
Then, as now, the party in charge of the House was warned against taking such a dramatic step for legal, but mostly political reasons. The disdain for then-President Bill Clinton led Republicans to claim the political risk was worth it. Was it?
In the midterm elections of a sitting President’s second term, that President’s party always loses seats in Congress. But with impeachment on the horizon, Democrats defied history and picked up five seats in the House for the first time in recent memory.
While the Clinton impeachment push occurred on the eve of the election, one year remains in Trump’s term. This might have helped lead House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say last week “it doesn’t matter” if Democrats would lose the House over impeachment because Trump is “undermining the Constitution.”
Then, as now, Republicans held a majority In the Senate, but did not come close to removing Clinton from office. Democrats believe forcing individual Republican Senators to vote against removing President Donald Trump from office could help push them to a majority.
Should the House take that step, the Judiciary Committee would appoint members to serve as prosecutors known as “managers.” In the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial in the Senate, Florida Reps. Bill McCollum and Charles Canady were among the 12 selected.
Should Democrats vote to impeach, any trial would again most likely be conducted by the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, the only lawyer among Florida Democrats on the committee, would be a candidate to be among the prosecutors.
Reports indicate the House inquiry effort, now led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California, who seeks to move quickly toward a vote by the end of the year. Much can happen over the coming months.
Testimony by the whistleblower is apparently in the works with committee staff working on logistics of keeping his or her identity a secret. In the meantime, cries of “hypocrite” will go back-and-forth among both sides.
For example, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz dug up a recording of Schiff being pranked by two Russians posing as Ukrainians, who apparently got Schiff to say on air he would accept negative political information on Trump from them. Representatives and Senators from both parties had different things to say, in fact, the opposite, in 1998-99 than they do today.
The next three months also provide Trump ample time to tweet away, delighting his legion of committed followers, infuriating his legion of detractors and making other Republican officeholders wince.
In the end, it is hard to see how Democrats do not go forward. Pulling back from impeachment would make current divisions in Washington seem like canyons.
While all 13 delegation Democrats back the current inquiry, not all of them are ready to make the final call.
Scott TPS gambit fails
In July, the House passed the Venezuela TPS Act sponsored by Orlando Democrat Darren Soto and Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart. Sen. Rick Scott had indicated his support for granting Venezuelans Temporary Protected Status and last week tried to pass the bill that included what turned out to be a controversial amendment.
Scott offered an amendment that would grant TPS to Venezuelans for 18 months, subject to a semiannual review. Scott’s bill said refugees from all countries enjoying TPS status would also come under review every two years to determine if conditions in their home countries had improved sufficiently enough to facilitate their return.
He attempted to pass the amendment through the process known as unanimous consent, where one Senator can block it from moving forward. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez blocked it, criticizing Scott for his amendment that will “make it easier for the Trump administration to strip status from vulnerable migrants that are legally in the United States.”
Scott tweeted a response saying, “They chose to play politics instead of helping the people of #VZ. I’ll keep fighting.”
Unanimous consent is a procedure where normally noncontroversial legislation is put up for a vote when quorums are not present to gain quick approval. In July, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin tried to get the same bill passed (without an amendment) via the same tactic, but Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee objected.
Air Force request supported
The United States Air Force is seeking to expand the role of light attack aircraft through additional funding from the defense budget. Sen. Marco Rubio and several delegation colleagues are supporting the Air Force’s latest budget request.
In a letter led by Rubio to the chairs and ranking members of the Committees on Armed Services in both chambers, the members asked that the final draft of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) include funding to move the program forward. Both the House and Senate passed their versions of the NDAA with a final bill set to be negotiated between conferees from both chambers.
“The light-attack program offers a low-cost solution to absorb missions currently being conducted by 4th and 5th generation platforms,” they wrote. “By enabling this program, it will allow the Air Force the ability to execute Combatant Commander requirements and task orders in order to preserve high-fidelity fifth-generation fighter aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for a near-peer fight.”
F-35 jets are slated to come to Tyndall Air Force Base in the Panhandle once the base is rebuilt.
“Over the past several years, Congress has acted upon its commitment to the light-attack program by authorizing $300 million and appropriating $200 million expressly to deliver on these capabilities and concepts,” the letter concludes. “We respectfully request you to continue this much-needed effort.”
Floridians also signing the letter include Republicans Gaetz, Diaz-Balart, John Rutherford of Jacksonville, and Bill Posey of Rockledge, along with Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schlultz.
Gaetz and Mike Waltz are the only Florida Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, while Rutherford and Diaz-Balart serve on the Appropriations Committee. Wasserman Schultz is the chair of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing military construction.
‘Stand up’ for Hong Kong
As the 70th anniversary of the Chinese revolution approached, violence increased in Hong Kong. Scott, having just returned from a visit to Hong Kong, encouraged Americans to “stand up” for the protesters and Hong Kong in general.
“Every American has to stand up for Hong Kong,” Scott said Monday from San Francisco. He pointed the finger at China’s leader, Xi Jinping.
“Xi is not living up to his side of the bargain,” he added.
Scott then ran off a list of American complaints against China, including trade practices and not cracking down on the manufacture and illegal exportation of fentanyl. He then went into the disappearances of Hong Kong residents and threats against family members of protesters.
“This is just the example of what a communist leader does,” Scott said, calling Xi a “human rights violator.” He added, “Americans, you need to understand that when you buy Chinese products, you are supporting a human rights violator.”
Scott also said he was pressuring Trump to take the threat from China more seriously.
The Villages hosting Trump
One thing all sides can agree upon is the President is never at a loss for words. When he comes to Florida later this week, he will no doubt have a lot to say among friends.
Trump will be at The Villages to sign an executive order designed to protect Medicare. Specifics were not yet available or leaked.
“There’s a lot of challenges to the Medicare system, so I’m glad that the president hasn’t lost sight of the importance to a significant portion of the population,” said John Calandro, a founding member of the Villages for Trump club.
The President is likely to take the opportunity to bash Democrats for the impeachment push and continue to talk about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, on the latter’s business relationships in Ukraine. The Trump campaign has an ad running that highlights Joe Biden’s recollections on getting a Ukrainian prosecutor fired.
Both Trump and Biden maintain neither did anything wrong in their dealings with Ukraine. Trump’s visit is back on the calendar after postponing a few weeks ago following the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas.
Dunn files anti-union bill
Republicans and union leaders have often tangled, which makes a bill introduced last week adding to GOP desires minimize membership. Panama City Republican Neal Dunn introduced the VA Workplace Integrity Act designed to combat the use of financial incentives to pressure federal employees into joining unions.
According to Dunn, the bill protects Department of Veterans Affairs employees from undue financial manipulation. He points to new department hires at times being approached immediately by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) representatives and offered $100 cash to join immediately.
“Manipulating new federal employees at the VA to join a union with a $100 bribe as they walk in the door is unethical,” Dunn said in a news release. “Federal employees should have the freedom to choose whether or not they join a union and participate in union activities on their own accord. The undue pressure and financial commitment associated with joining a union is something that should not be taken lightly,” Dunn said.
Earlier in the month, Dunn wrote to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie asking the VA to investigate this practice and its legality. Dunn further describes the practice as “financial manipulation,” adding the Department’s current collective bargaining agreement with AFGE permits employees to opt-out of paying union dues once a year during a 10-calendar day period near their anniversary.
Dunn says the process makes it difficult for employees to stop paying dues if that is their wish. His bill is co-sponsored by South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson.
Waltz spotlights ‘deepfakes’
A practice where videos can be altered while continuing to look authentic is causing concern in the political and real world. In an attempt to shed some light on the practice known as “deepfake,” St. Augustine Republican Waltz teamed up with Virginia Democrat Don Beyer to demonstrate how easily disinformation can be created and disseminated.
Waltz created the deepfake using a video statement from Beyer and swapping it with his own image. The video shows Waltz, a former Army Green Beret, rooting for archrival Navy to beat his beloved Black Knights football team.
“Deepfake technology undermines public trust in any digital communications,” Waltz appears to say in the video (although it was actually Beyer’s voice).
The goal of the video was to demonstrate how deepfakes and artificial intelligence can literally put words in people’s mouths in video and audio clips. This technology has the potential for significant abuse, and legislation may be needed to combat it.
The video represents the latest effort to help regulate the practice. In June, the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing about the national security challenges posed by deepfakes, artificial intelligence, and types of manipulated media.
New York Democrat Yvette Clark has introduced the DEEPFAKES Accountability Act to criminalize synthetic media that looks to deceive the public. Democratic Reps. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens are among the 27 co-sponsors.
No facility in Florida
In July, the Orlando region was mentioned as a possible location for a child detention center. Such a facility would house unaccompanied minors entering the country illegally.
According to Orlando Democrat Val Demings, Central Florida is no longer on the list. She broke the news via Twitter.
“NEWS: Central FL is off the list for a new permanent facility to detain immigrant children,” she tweeted. “I’m glad that our community won’t be part of the President’s inhumane child detention policy, and I will keep fighting to ensure that ALL children are treated with kindness and care.”
Demings said she learned of the decision from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Federal officials are reportedly now looking at Texas and Arizona as possible locations.
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor announced two personnel moves in her office this week. Press secretary and grants assistant Steven Angotti, moves to full-time grants coordinator and plays a more significant role in constituent services.
Moving into the role of press secretary is Rikki Miller, who most recently served as press assistant for the House Democratic Caucus and earlier as press assistant for Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell. Miller will be based in Castor’s Washington, D.C. office.
Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan also announced the addition of Don Green as his senior policy adviser. Green is the former legislative director for Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.
Good opposes impeachment
More than 90 percent of House Democrats are on board with the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions. This includes all 13 delegation Democrats.
State Rep. Margaret Good hopes to join the delegation next November as she runs against Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan. Buchanan is firmly opposed to impeachment, and while not holding strong feelings, Good is also skeptical.
“I oppose using the impeachment process for political gamesmanship because it deepens party divides and ultimately divides us as Americans,” Good said in a statement to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “I believe we need to bring our country together and therefore would never support any impeachment proceedings that I believe are unwarranted.”
She does favor continuing Congressional investigations into Trump.
Buchanan sent an email to supporters and constituents labeled “Impeachment insanity.” It included quotes from those opposing impeachment efforts, including Trump supporters.
Business credit bill introduced
Following the security breach to the credit reporting bureau Equifax, Congress amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act to provide additional protections for “consumers.” Some of those same protections did not include small businesses, prompting Sarasota Republican Greg Steube to file a bill to add those businesses as beneficiaries of the Equifax settlement.
Last week, Steube introduced the Small Business Credit Protection Act to amend the Small Business Act again, directing credit bureaus to inform small businesses within 30 days if their nonpublic personal data have been breached. His bill, co-sponsored by Minnesota Republican Jim Hagedorn, would also prohibit credit bureaus from charging small businesses for a credit report within 180 days of a breach, similar to benefits enjoyed by consumers.
“For many years, data breaches have plagued consumers across America,” Steube said in a news release. “Congress has attempted to protect consumers from these events, but unfortunately, nothing has been done to protect our small businesses. “It’s important that we look out for these small businesses that are the backbone of our local economies.”
The bill serves as a companion to legislation filed in the Senate by Rubio and co-sponsored by Louisiana Republican John Kennedy, Delaware Democrat Chris Coons and Alabama Democrat Doug Jones. Rubio’s bill received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, a committee Rubio chairs.
Rooney bucks Trump emergency
Before leaving for a two-week recess, both the House and Senate voted for the second time to end the national crisis at the Southern border declared by Trump several months ago. The House vote was 236-174, while the Senate passed the measure 54-41.
In the House 11 Republicans joined with Democrats, two fewer than the previous attempt in March. Among those 11 was Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples, the only delegation Republican to vote against the President’s policy.
“My vote to terminate the emergency declaration is consistent with my previous votes on this issue and consistent with the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers,” Rooney said in a statement.
He also said his vote should not be taken as not recognizing the need to secure the border, but under the current emergency status, “the ends do not justify the means.”
In the Senate, Scott voted against the bill as he did the previous time. Rubio, who voted with Democrats the last time, was one of five Senators not voting as he returned to Florida for a family issue.
The other four were Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.
The bill heads to the White House, where Trump will certainly veto it. Both chambers are far short of numbers needed to override such a veto.
Action on vaping urged
With reports coming out about e-cigarettes and vaping possibly causing health issues, the Trump administration revealed plans to ban flavored vaping products. Several states have announced similar intentions.
Following the death of a Floridian from a mysterious lung disease, Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala spoke out, blasting cigarette manufacturers. In comments resembling criticism of many of the same tobacco manufacturers years ago, Shalala said they “should be ashamed of themselves.”
“They have hooked teenagers,” she charged during an interview with Yahoo Finance AM. “Clearly, when you put flavors in, you’re focusing on young people. You’re not focusing on adults,” she continued.
Shalala targeted the tobacco industry earlier this year with the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019, a bill she is co-sponsoring with New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone. The purpose of the bill is to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Shalala said one-quarter of 12th-grade students are vaping now. She says this is the proof Congress needs to take action.
“We will pass a bill by the end of the year,” she adds. “But we need every state, every school district, every parent to focus on this issue to prevent young people from getting hooked.”
Greater canine protection urged
During the eventful week in Washington, members also took the time to look out for special animals deployed around the world. Shalala led a letter, also signed by 19 bipartisan members, to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging tighter oversight of foreign allies who accept U.S.-trained Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) from the state department.
The letter highlights instances where these animals, also known as “bomb-sniffing dogs,” are mistreated and malnourished. They cite a report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), who issued a report that raised “serious concerns” over the lack of a written agreement to monitor the treatment of the dogs.
One of the countries prominently mentioned was Jordan, where 10 dogs died from medical issues and were living in unsanitary conditions. Similar findings were disclosed in 2016, but little changed.
“The state OIG provided the Department with five recommendations to ensure the health and welfare of the CDCs,” they wrote. “However, the Department refused to take OIG’s recommendation to cease sending canines to Jordan until the nation develops its own sustainability plan to provide for the health and welfare of the dogs in its care.
“I am pleased to join @RepShalala in sending a letter to @SecPompeo regarding the maltreatment of bomb-detecting K9’s deployed to Jordan,” tweeted Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings. “These active-duty dogs work hard to help keep people safe & the @StateDept has a responsibility to protect their health & welfare!”
In addition to Shalala and Hastings, other delegation signees included Gaetz and Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho.
On this day
Oct. 1, 1998 — House Democratic leaders brushed aside the possibility of a censure deal for President Bill Clinton and instead for the first time endorsed a proposal that would allow party members to vote for a limited impeachment inquiry next week. While this means most Democrats will oppose the GOP inquiry, it puts them on the record as supporting a formal impeachment investigation.
The Democratic measure is certain to fail, but Democratic leaders hope their proposal will keep as many as 50 members from voting for the Republican proposal. The House Judiciary Committee is set to release supplemental information from the report of Special Counsel Kenneth Starr.
Oct. 1, 2014 — One month away from the midterm elections, voters say the economy is their top concern. According to The Associated Press GfK poll, 92 percent of likely voters believe the economy is important or very important to them.
Majorities believe Democrats will retain control of the Senate and Republicans will remain in charge of the House with the GOP holding a three-point lead in the generic ballot question. The approval rating for President Barack Obama stands at 42 percent, while Congress has an anemic approval rating of only seven percent.
Former President Jimmy Carter turns 95 today (Oct. 1).
Our condolences to Sen. Rubio on the loss of his mother, Oriales. She was 88.