Supreme Court’s big agenda
In 1981, Hollywood released the movie First Monday in October, starring Walter Matthau and Jill Clayburgh, about the beginning of a new term of the U.S. Supreme Court. Clayburgh played the role of the newest member of the court, a staunch conservative.
Though the genders are different, newest justice Brett Kavanaugh plays the real role of the conservative or “originalist.” As the first Monday in October ushered in the 2019-20 term this week, the frantic fight to confirm or deny Kavanaugh’s confirmation will play out with a few potentially landmark cases to be heard over the next few months.
Late last week, the court revealed it would hear June Medical Services v. Gee, a Louisiana case that requires doctors performing abortion procedures to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. In 2016, the court struck down a similar Texas, but with Kavanaugh now in the seat formerly held by swing Justice Anthony Kennedy, pro-choice advocates are deeply concerned.
During his confirmation process, Kavanaugh reportedly said he considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.” That gave Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz no comfort then, and certainly not now saying in response to Kavanaugh’s nomination, she would do everything possible “to ensure that our health care system does not go back to the time before Roe v. Wade.”
The court will also hear arguments on President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. His executive action undid an executive action by former President Barack Obama that delayed any enforcement against those brought to the U.S. illegally as children (“Dreamers”).
Lower courts and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Trump’s action as unconstitutional. Oral arguments are scheduled for November.
Not long after commencing the term, the court heard arguments in the case known as Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This case involves the termination of a biological male employee who sought to identify as a woman.
Also argued this week are cases involving employees fired due to their sexual orientation. Justice Clarence Thomas was absent due to illness but will take part in deciding cases coming before the court this week.
Justices have given Trump three significant temporary victories recently, including giving the go-ahead to his denial of asylum to Central Americans traveling through Mexico. They further agreed with Trump that immigrants with criminal records could be held indefinitely and also allowed the President to divert military funds to construct a border wall.
Final decisions on these and many other cases are expected in the spring as the 2020 election cycle intensifies. If numerous Democrats have their way, Chief Justice John Roberts will be presiding over an impeachment trial in the Senate over the coming weeks or months.
Assuming Trump survives the effort, the results of these cases could shift the issue of a President’s power to appoint justices and judges into the forefront. Winning a majority of Senators, who hold power to confirm justices like Kavanaugh and hundreds of federal judges with only 51 votes, will also be a focus of both parties.
Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan strongly supports Kavanaugh for his opinions so far and looks forward to more in the future.
“Justice Kavanaugh has lived up to his reputation as a strong conservative voice on the nation’s highest court,” Buchanan said in an email message. “Kavanaugh will play a key role in the direction of our country for decades to come.”
That is just what liberals fear. It all begins this week.
Rubio: Trump not serious
Last week, Trump called on China to investigate the dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The reaction was outrage among Democrats and, with a few exceptions, silence from Republicans.
Sen. Marco Rubio was also an exception, but while not defending the words of the President, he said Trump was not serious. The two-term Republican said he was tweaking the media.
“I don’t think it’s a real request,” Rubio said. “Again, I think he did it to get you guys (media). I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it. Like I said, he plays it like a violin and everyone falls right into it.”
A similar controversy came in 2016 when candidate Trump called on Russia to find “30,000 emails that are missing” after Hillary Clinton revealed she had emails deleted from her private server that were not government-related. Trump and those defending him said it was a satirical statement.
Rubio may have been the first to provide what is likely to become a common defense. The last month has proven that a serious call for foreign intervention against an opponent can be problematic.
Scott: Lam a ‘puppet’
The crisis in Hong Kong continues with fears growing China’s patience could be wearing thin. After a recent trip to the region, Sen. Rick Scott came away feeling the Chinese are pulling all of the strings.
“On my trip to Hong Kong, I met with Chief Executive Carrie Lam and establishment leaders, who are nothing more than puppets for Beijing and [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping],” Scott said in a statement last week.
Scott accused Lam of not even answering “basic questions” he had about her plans for addressing the concerns of the multitude of protesters. Lam wrote to the first-term Republican, which did nothing to satisfy his concerns.
She began by describing Scott as “a staunch supporter and loyal friend of Hong Kong.” Her administration has started to “engage in sincere dialogue” with those opposed to her government’s policies.
Lam worried about “adverse effects” from the so-called “Hong Kong bill,” which urges a second look from American policymakers as to whether or not the city is truly “autonomous” anymore.
Not long after, the Hong Kong government outlawed the wearing of gas masks during protests. Police are using tear gas against the protesters.
“This is shameful, and just the beginning,” Scott said in another statement. “This is a precursor to further limits on the rights of the people of Hong Kong to peacefully assemble.”
NBA China apology blasted
Meanwhile, Scott and Rubio both blasted the NBA for apologizing to China for a tweet from Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, which had supported the Hong Kong protesters.
Scott called NBA President Adam Silver’s apology statement to China “an absolute joke.” Rubio tweeted that he considered it disgusting and accused the NBA of “throwing the GM of @HoustonRockets under the bus to please the Communist Chinese Govt.”
After Morey’s pro-Hong Kong protesters tweet Friday night, the NBA, which values its popularity in the Chinese market, issued a statement that apparently was more kowtowing in its Chinese version than its English one. The English one declared great respect for the history and culture of China, and it assured that “Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
Rubio tweeted: “I thought the @NBA was proud to be the ‘wokest professional sports league’? I guess that only applies to speaking out on American politics & social issues.’”
Scott asked for a meeting with Silver.
Both of Florida’s Republican Senators have worked hard to establish themselves as hard-liners against communist or socialist totalitarians. Scott, in particular, has adopted an “enablers of my enemies are my enemies” doctrine for such statements.
But this time they’re getting some bipartisan bedfellows.
Tweeted Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas, the former Congressman: “The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment.”
Trump, Pelosi visit Florida
Last week, Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi made nearly simultaneous trips to Florida with targeted audiences for 2020 in mind. While Trump was at The Villages to talk about protecting Medicare, Pelosi’s message was Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans.
Trump announced a new executive order and spoke to the reliable voting bloc of seniors, promising not to allow his opponents to take Medicare away from seniors, a reversal of previous campaigns where Republicans were described as the threat. This accusation is as false as previous charges.
Pelosi came to the district of Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston for an event to talk about TPS. Many in the media were interested in impeachment, but Pelosi, who was joined by Wasserman Schultz, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Donna Shalala of Coral Gables, talked of the need to extend TPS to Venezuelans.
Part of the discussion was the amendment proposed by Scott to the House-passed TPS bill to provide a time limit on TPS status. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey blocked it.
“Rick Scott is full of bull crap,” Wasserman Schultz said, later adding, “Rick Scott is not for anyone but himself.” Pelosi said Scott’s effort was “totally disingenuous.”
Republicans argue Democrats seek permanent, not temporary, status for Venezuelans. Scott’s office said his bill, which would immediately grant TPS status, is the only one that can pass the Senate.
Wasserman Schultz counters that Trump could grant TPS by executive order, something Rubio has urged the President to consider.
New VA clinics announced
Recognizing an effort to enhance health care services for veterans, Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho is applauding the announcement of three new Veteran’s Affairs (VA) facilities in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District.
These three leases were authorized under the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 (Choice 2.0). The four-term Congressman helped secure funds in 2017 for four new VA facilities and has been an advocate for the further operation of these facilities.
“Today marks an important milestone in the VA facility process and brings us one step closer to being better able to serve our local heroes, Yoho said.” “The site selection and award of these three facilities is a huge hurdle that we have overcome, and I want to thank the VA and their team for working diligently on these projects.”
The two Gainesville facilities will include a 70,840 square foot primary care facility to be located adjacent to a new 39,932 square foot mental health facility. The mental health project will also consolidate three existing mental health leases located in the Gainesville area into a single lease.
The Ocala facility will receive a 45,499 square foot clinic to replace the area’s two centers. In August 2018, Yoho announced the award for the first VA clinic in Clay County with construction beginning next month.
“I am looking forward to continuing to work with our partners at the VA to ensure the next phases of these projects are executed in a timely manner so we can continue to expand services and take care of our veterans,” Yoho concluded.
National heritage bill introduced
Florida has a rich heritage with historical sites spread around the state. Three North Florida Congressmen have joined together to designate an area that preserves the state’s history officially.
Republican Reps. John Rutherford of Jacksonville and Michael Waltz of St. Augustine have joined with Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee to designate portions of Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, and Flagler counties as a National Heritage Area (NHA). The members announced the filing of the Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act (H.R. 4542) to cement that status.
“St. Augustine and the entire First Coast is home to countless places of historical significance,” Rutherford, the bill’s lead sponsor, said. “From rich Native American and African American history to the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States, Northeast Florida’s cultural heritage sites are deserving of this national recognition that will ensure they exist for future generations.”
Congress designates NHA’s and protected by the National Park Service. They recognize essential natural, cultural, and historical landscapes while celebrating the nation’s diverse heritage.
“Northeast Florida is filled with natural beauty, historical assets and countless resources we need to preserve,” Waltz said, “Our area is one of the oldest, most historical areas in our country, so it’s important we protect and preserve these areas for visitors and residents.”
A 2012 study by the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the National Park Service showed NHAs contribute nearly $13 billion annually to the national economy and support 148,000 jobs. There are 55 designated National Heritage Areas in 34 states across the country that support a diversity of conservation, recreation, education and preservation activities.
Soto awards overdue medal
Recently, the motto “better late than never” was appropriate for a Central Florida man. After more than 50 years, a Vietnam veteran is finally being recognized for his service.
Last week, Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto presented Manuel Rodriguez with the Vietnam Gallantry Cross with bronze palm for valor. Rodriguez was a combat-wounded Army “radioman” recognized with a Purple Heart and other commendations but had never been recognized for his heroism until receiving his medal from Soto.
#HeroHonored Sgt Manuel Rodriguez was presented with the Vietnam Gallantry Cross with bronze palm for valor by @RepDarrenSoto @WESH profiled Manuel’s courageous act in 1967, saving 30 of his fellow soldiers from enemy gunfire. Congratulations Manuel! pic.twitter.com/k4rFk4GImX
— Greg Fox (@GregFoxWESH) October 4, 2019
“It takes a dedication of heroes like Sgt. Rodriguez to defend our freedoms, and we can never take that for granted,” Soto said. “War is challenging, both to the individual warfighter and the family, and so, this helps not only to recognize the sacrifices but to begin the healing processes once we’re in peacetime again.”
In 1967, Rodriguez was in a hostile region when his fellow soldiers came under heavy gunfire. His quick action and bravery were credited with saving 30 of his mates.
Rodriguez does not consider himself a hero, instead just wanting “to do my job, and I wanted to help my friends that were there too.”
The story made headlines, but Rodriguez never received what he had earned. After seeing a local news report and confirming the story, Soto acted on behalf of Rodriguez.
Demings defends Schiff
Over the past three years, Trump has had several Republicans defending his words or actions. Rubio was among the latest (see “Trump not serious” above).
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff needs defenders following two recent high-profile controversies. On Sunday, Orlando Democrat Val Demings, a committee member, appeared on the Fox News program hosted by Chris Wallace.
Schiff claimed his committee had no contact with the anti-Trump whistleblower and during a committee hearing in September, created a narrative monologue that he described as a “parody,” of Trump admitting to crimes.
“Chairman Schiff has served, as you know, several terms in Congress,” Demings said. “He has been a person who has provided exceptional leadership and chairman Schiff said he could have stated — responded — in a more clear way … It was a question about procedure and process.”
Demings said the uproar directed toward Schiff is more of a distraction. Dwelling on her many years in law enforcement, she told Wallace “when the evidence is so painfully obvious, I have seen the subject of an investigation turn and attack the investigators … we need to keep our eye on the ball.”
Drug price bill touted
House Democrats are anxious to show they are trying to do more than impeach the President. An example is legislation championed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices as a way to lower costs.
Last week Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor became a co-sponsor of that legislation, which would empower Medicare to negotiate for the first time.
“I have heard from individuals across Tampa, at the YMCA, grocery store, town halls and on the street, about the unaffordable cost of prescription drugs,” Castor said in a news release. “It’s time for Congress to ensure that lifesaving treatments are no longer out of reach for all of our neighbors and especially our most vulnerable.”
In addition to the new provision for Medicare, lower drug costs could be extended to families who rely on private insurance, according to Castor. Her office provided statistics that say an estimated 98,000 uninsured individuals in Tampa Bay pay higher prices for prescription drugs than patients in other countries.
“The Lower Drug Costs Now Act will finally allow for the negotiation of prescription drug prices through Medicare and stops drug companies from ripping off American families and seniors,” she added. “This is an All-American proposition that makes sure everyone can afford the cost of their prescription drugs.”
The bill currently has 37 co-sponsors, all Democrats. In addition to Castor, Shalala and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach are those signing on to the legislation.
Republicans describe the bill as an attempt to establish “socialist price controls” and is “dead on arrival” in the Senate, should the House pass the measure.
Anti-poaching bill advances
An effort to combat wildlife poaching around the world has taken another step forward. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week approved a version of a bill launched by Longboat Key Republican Buchanan, allowing the U.S. Department of State to offer financial rewards for information leading to the arrest of poachers.
The Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RARW) Act would add wildlife trafficking to the list of criminal activities the State Department can target with financial rewards for whistleblowers. Buchanan’s bill, co-sponsored by Democrats Dina Titus of Nevada and Brad Sherman of California, along with Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, passed the House without objection July 15.
“Wildlife trafficking is a nefarious and persistent threat to endangered animals across the world,” Buchanan said in a news release. “The RAWR Act provides another tool to crack down on the billions of dollars generated by this illegal activity.”
Crimes related to illicit wildlife trafficking generates billions of dollars every year, much of which is funneled to terrorist groups. It is estimated that a kilogram of raw ivory is worth as much as $2,100, while a kilogram of rhino horn can fetch up to $65,000.
“It is imperative that we get this bill to the president’s desk as soon as possible,” Buchanan continued. “Terrorist groups rely on funding derived from this illicit industry. We need to do all we can to discourage this type of criminal activity.”
Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley sponsors the bill, which has 14 co-sponsors, including Scott.
Enough investigating, start some investigations
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube says all Congress has done the 10 months since he got to Washington has been to investigate Trump. He’d like them to do something else, like investigate Joe Biden.
“I think we need to investigate this information that we have,” Steube said about Biden during an appearance on Fox News.
What Steube notes as a known fact is that Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, was paid $50,000 a month to serve on a Ukrainian energy company’s board while Biden, on behalf of President Barack Obama’s administration, threatened to withhold a $1-billion loan guarantee unless a prosecutor investigating the company was fired. “I think that calls into serious question some crimes that may have been committed and should be investigated,” Steube said.
But Steube said Democratic leadership wants only to investigate a Republican president, and that won’t stop until control of the chamber changes.
“Since I’ve been sworn in in January, there have been six committees investigating for everything from his tax returns to conversations he has with foreign leaders to the Mueller Report. You name it. And it’s not going to stop as long as the Democrats are in charge. They have not done anything for Floridians, for the American people, for the 10 months we’ve been in Congress because all they have been focused on is impeaching the president.”
Mast urges Pelosi’s removal
As the impeachment frenzy continues, the vitriol on Capitol Hill continues from well-known partisans. Even those not generally associated with heated rhetoric are coming forward.
Among those stepping up is Palm City Republican Brian Mast, who has called for the removal of Pelosi as Speaker. Mast said launching the impeachment inquiry was “irresponsible” and made Pelosi unfit to continue in her post.
In an interview with the conservative Newsmax TV, Mast said: “going out there and pressuring all of the members of the majority party to support an inquiry into impeachment, prior to any of them having any knowledge … is, hands down, the most irresponsible action that I’ve ever seen.”
Mast was referring to Pelosi’s decision to launch the inquiry before the release of the Trump telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The second-term Congressman said he also supports a censure resolution against Schiff filed by Arizona Republican Andy Biggs and signed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Biggs is the new chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
“I am on board,” Mast. “When you look at what’s gone on with this process, you say: ‘Is it totally partisan? What’s going on with this?'”
So far, Mast has acquired one Democratic opponent as he seeks election to a third term next year. Last week, former Florida Deputy Solicitor General Oz Vazquez announced he would run for the District 18 seat.
From Russia with scorn
As the eyes of many in Washington turned to actions in Turkey, Naples Republican Francis Rooney kept his focus on the Western Hemisphere. He sounded alarms about Russian support for unsavory regimes Monday, days after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Cuba and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov visited with Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.
“Medvedev’s trip to Cuba and Borisov’s trip to Venezuela highlights Russia’s continued support for dictators and human rights abusers in the region,” Rooney wrote on Twitter. “The U.S. must continue to stand against Russia’s malign influence and stand for Democracy.”
Reuters reports Medvedev visited Havana to assure the government just off Florida’s shore still had a secure supply of oil and petroleum products. Cuba, of course, has continued to support Maduro’s government, even after the United States and dozens of other Western nations officially recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the nation’s interim president. Maduro’s government, in turn, has sent flotillas of oil supplies to the island nation.
School closure prevention proposed
Both two-year and four-year colleges are held to specific standards to maintain their accreditation status. Shalala and two of her colleagues in the House believe accrediting agencies need to do more to prevent these colleges from losing their accreditation and ultimately closing.
The first-term Democrat from Coral Gables joined with Republican Rep. Peter King of New York and Illinois Democrat Sean Casten to file the Stop College Closures Act. If enacted, the bill would require college administrators to be more proactive in addressing an increasing number of student complaints.
“When colleges and universities unexpectedly shutter, students are often cheated out of years of hard work and thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it,” Shalala said in a joint release. “It is the accreditors’ job to ensure institutions have the proper procedures in place to act in the best interest of our students and maintain the integrity of the accreditation process.”
The bill requires accreditors to respond to complaints, monitor and assess an institution’s records of student complaints, and submit such complaints to the Secretary of Education and state agency as appropriate. Also, it would require monitoring of schools experiencing significant decline and need accreditors to review teach-out plans and agreements when signs of a potential school closure develop.
“Spotting the warning signs of a potential school closure as early as possible is critical to avoiding the worst possible outcome,” she added.
On this day
Oct. 8, 1981 — A historic delegation headed to Cairo to attend the funeral of assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Former Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter accepted the invitation of President Ronald Reagan to lead the group representing the U.S.
The meeting at the White House before departure marked the first time in the 20th century, maybe ever, that four Presidents assembled at one location. Reagan and Vice President George Bush did not attend due to security concerns while Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership also declined invitations.
Oct. 8, 2001 — Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was sworn in as Secretary of the newly-created Department of Homeland Security. At his swearing-in ceremony, Ridge described his new job as “difficult, but not impossible.”
The new agency is designed to bring related law enforcement agencies under one umbrella, such as FEMA, the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and others. Previous “turf wars” and lack of interagency communication leading up to 9/11 prompted Ridge to say, “The only turf we should be worried about protecting is the turf we stand on.”