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Syria withdrawal blasted
Daily reaction to the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump falls entirely along partisan lines (see Trump ups ante below). The President’s decision earlier this week to basically tell the Syrian Kurds they are on their own is a different story.
American withdrawal included a warning to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that attacking the Kurds could bring about sanctions able to “obliterate” the Turkish economy. After the first day produced several casualties, Trump called the invasion a “bad idea.”
The President’s announcement of his intentions drew swift, bipartisan criticism that continues as the Turkish invasion progresses. Those defending him against the impeachment inquiry are aligned with Democrats on this issue.
At request of this administration the Kurds served as the primary ground fighters against ISIS in Syria so U.S. troops wouldn’t have to.
Then cut deal with Erdogan allowing him to wipe them out.
Damage to our reputation & national interest will be extraordinary & long lasting.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 9, 2019
Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings said Trump’s decision will “pave the way for [a] massacre and humanitarian disaster.” Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch said: “Turkey’s attack in Syria and U.S. abandonment of Kurdish partners is despicable.”
Naples Republican Francis Rooney urged the President “to reverse his decision of removing our troops, and to send a strong message to Turkey — along with our other NATO partners in Europe — that we support the Kurds who have been fighting with us.”
Among Trump’s few defenders was Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, who said the President was keeping another campaign promise. He spoke with Trump after the change in policy was revealed.
Had a great talk with @realDonaldTrump on Syria today
He's doing the right thing. Leaving Americans stuck between two armies that've been fighting for hundreds of years with no definable, achievable objective is the foolish foreign policy he was elected to change.#AmericaFirst
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) October 8, 2019
St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz said the Trump move carries a “huge risk” that includes the possibility of thousands of ISIS fighters gaining freedom if the Kurds, who were guarding them, leave to fight on the front lines or are wiped out. On the other hand, Waltz described Trump’s move as “not an irrational decision,” when looking at the possibility of repairing the relationship with Turkey, a member of NATO.
Under the current scenario, Trump is in little danger of being removed from office even if Democrats ultimately take that step. But it is a safe bet this move in Syria will tone down some of the vocal support within some quarters of the Republican Party in the short term.
Senators: Huawei threatens security
Both Florida Senators have been at the forefront, calling out the security threats posed by the Chinese telecom company, Huawei. Rubio has advocated even more severe sanctions on the company than those currently in place, and Scott has joined the effort since he was sworn in nine months ago.
After Microsoft President Brad Smith claimed the Trump administration was treating Huawei unfairly, Smith said intelligence against the company should be released, thereby enabling companies to “decide for themselves” whether to continue doing business with them.
Scott and Rubio joined with three GOP Senate colleagues to make the case against the company. In a letter also signed by Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Mike Braun of Indiana, they say “available evidence indicates that the security concerns about Huawei are real and urgent.”
The Senators proceeded to detail 12 instances of espionage and economic warfare conducted against U.S. interests. The evidence, they write, proves Huawei is “an intelligence-gathering apparatus for the Chinese state.”
“Of course, the government has more classified evidence to support this case, and we sympathize with your expressed concern that Microsoft and other businesses are not privy to this intelligence,” they continued. “We believe the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the intelligence community could share more of this intelligence in an appropriate fashion to affected businesses.”
The Senators offered their assistance in setting up briefings for Microsoft and other companies.
Ads attack Senators on guns
Gun control legislation is not moving at all in the U.S. Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring any of those House-passed bills or one created in the Senate, unless Trump supports it.
The President has ended gun control talks following the impeachment inquiry against him.
That leaves Republican Senators in the position to have organized campaigns and television ads launched against them for inaction. Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott are among those taking incoming attacks.
The ads, created by Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, say: “Inaction is unacceptable. The time for gun safety is now.”
They will also run against Senators in Colorado, Kentucky, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg created, and funds, both groups.
“The Senate’s delay on gun safety has a body count, and the gun safety movement will not stand silent while lawmakers try to run out the clock,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Rubio has filed a red flag bill in the Senate that would incentivize states to enact legislation that would confiscate weapons from those deemed by a judge to be a risk. He dismisses the effectiveness of universal background check legislation by wondering “why people believe that that’s the answer to this problem.”
Scott, who signed a red flag law while serving as Governor, said he would review all gun bills.
Trump ups impeachment ante
The stakes in the impeachment inquiry took a dramatic turn this week when Trump informed the House that he and his administration will not cooperate with “illegitimate” impeachment inquiry. In an eight-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and three House committee chairmen seeking testimony and records, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said the administration would not comply.
Cipollone wrote the ongoing process “violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process.” He described the premise of the inquiry as nothing more than seeking to “reverse the election of 2016 and to influence the election of 2020.”
Democrats contend Trump’s action is further evidence of obstruction.
“If President Donald Trump insists on placing himself above the law, Congress will have no choice but to impeach him for obstruction of justice,” tweeted Orlando Democrat Val Demings.
Some delegation Republicans strongly backed the President’s aggressive stance.
In a statement, Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City said, “Speaker Pelosi’s partisan impeachment proceedings are a farce and an effort to overturn the 2016 election. In a tweet, Waltz added “Good for @realDonaldTrump for standing up against this unfair and partisan impeachment proceeding.”
Things will pick up next week when Congress returns from a two-week recess.
Something besides impeachment, please
Nearly all Republicans and some Democrats feared going down the impeachment path might lead to the neglect of important issues. To help send a message of doing more than just holding hearings, Pelosi was in Seattle this week trying to turn the conversation toward health care.
In North Florida, Waltz, Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford disagree on whether the President should be impeached, but seem to have come to a consensus regarding the message it sends.
“Right now, all you hear in the media is impeachment. Impeachment,” Lawson said. “I’d really like to be able to get beyond that and do something positive in this 116th Congress before we go into the next year.”
Lawson also said he has told his Republican colleagues that what happened with the phone call prompting the firestorm was wrong. Waltz and Rutherford disagree and voiced their displeasure with the process but agreed with Lawson that essential issues are going unresolved.
“What is so sad to me is all the work that’s not being done. This investigation is going on under six different committees,” Waltz said before listing several unresolved issues. “We could go on and on about the work that Washington isn’t doing.”
“What has become clear to me is that the leadership in the House, they dislike this President more than they love their country,” Rutherford said. “That’s a problem.”
While resisting earlier calls to move forward, Pelosi said such a step was “divisive.” She now says Democrats have no choice.
Waltz goes undercover
One lawmaker is going incognito to reach out to constituents in an original way. Over the past few weeks, Waltz engaged with the public by making ice cream cones or tossing pizza dough in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.
Most recently, he spent a day as a postal employee. Waltz is recreating his own version of the CBS TV series “Undercover Boss” with his “Undercover Congressman” program, taking shifts in a variety of jobs throughout his district.
The former Army Green Beret officer sees it as being about getting back into the trenches
“In the military, you get down in the fox hole and get down with the troops as the best way to understand what’s going on,” Waltz said.
So far, he has delivered packages with UPS, served chicken sandwiches and waffle fries at Chick-fil-A, dipped ice cream for customers at Dairy Queen, hand-tossed pizza dough at Giuseppe’s Steel City Pizza and delivered mail with the United States Postal Service.
While Waltz is getting out into the community with working people in his own way, Floridians will remember “workdays” carried out by former Democratic Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham. His daughter, former Rep. Gwen Graham, engaged in workdays of her own.
The Postal Service job, in particular, inspired his military viewpoint, as he noted that the service is one of the largest employers of veterans in the country, employing more than 100,000 veterans. The U.S. Postal Service employs upward of 644,000 people, with nearly 340,000 of them working as mail carriers.
Waltz promises future episodes performing a variety of jobs.
Republicans protest Murphy
Republicans are seeking to put some pressure on moderate Democrats on the issue of impeachment. The latest effort came this week when state Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, led an anti-impeachment rally outside the Sanford office of Rep. Stephanie Murphy.
The rally featured those supporting Trump, who were met by counterdemonstrators. Gruters said that by pushing forward with impeachment, “Democrats like Stephanie Murphy are putting party before politics and therefore have lost all credibility.”
Murphy is known as a moderate through her role as co-chair of the Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition. That prompted a statement from Trump Victory spokesperson Danielle Alvarez, who said: “Murphy pretends to be moderate in rhetoric only, but when it comes time to ACT, she turns around and votes with the socialist squad.”
Both sides stood on opposite sides of the street, holding signs supporting their point of view. Murphy did not see or hear any of it as she was out of the office at community events but offered a later comment.
“The Republican Party of Florida can attack me all they want, but I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Murphy said later in a statement. “I will not be bullied into abandoning my oath. We must uncover the truth and get the facts for the American people.”
The rally was the second attempt this week to confront a Democrat in a competitive district. Earlier, Gaetz was advertised to appear outside the office of Rep. Charlie Crist in St. Petersburg but canceled due to a “miscommunication” with the Republican National Committee.
Those who showed up had their opposing messages and signs to show passersby. Both rallies are part of the Republicans’ Stop the Madness campaign against impeachment.
Better children’s health sought
Long-standing disparities in the public health field have existed for years. To reduce these disparities by addressing the social, economic and environmental factors that influence wellness, Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis and Delaware Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester introduced the Collecting and Analyzing Resources Integral and Necessary for Guidance (CARING) for Social Determinants Act of 2019.
This legislation would require the Department of Health and Human and Services (HHS) to provide guidance to states to address social determinants of health under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
“This is common sense, bipartisan legislation that employs the basic principles of hierarchical needs. We have to look at the big picture,” Bilirakis said in a joint release. “It is impossible to improve the population health of communities without addressing the factors that contribute to poor health outcomes. This is especially true when examining programs for children.”
This legislation builds upon the success that some state Medicaid programs have already had since testing innovative delivery and payment models designed to improve health outcomes while reducing costs.
Buchanan boosts battery power
During a visit to Florida Power and Light’s solar plant in Parrish, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan showed pride in the world’s largest solar-powered battery being constructed in his district.
“New technology like large-scale battery storage, is a critical step on the path to a cleaner and more efficient energy future,” Buchanan said. “This project will help the country move to energy independence and save money for consumers.”
The solar plant contributes around $1.4M in annual tax revenues to Manatee County. The cost of the entire project is estimated to be around $350 million.
Buchanan used the opportunity to highlight his own push for renewables. That includes pushing to extend and expand Investment Tax Credits for energy storage and the use of wind and sunlight for power. He was among few Republicans to support a $2.25 billion federal investment in developing solar energy technology, and wrote to then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu in support of $200 million in funding for a support smart grid system to advance clean energy use.
Now, he’s co-sponsoring legislation to support more clean energy storage, such as the FPL battery system. The bipartisan Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act (H.R. 2096) would encourage investment and research into energy storage technologies by expanding the existing solar investment tax credit (ITC) to include energy storage technology for utilities, businesses, and homes.
Mast takes victory lap
Last year Palm City Republican Brian Mast was among the most frequent and vocal critics of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their decisions to release heavily-polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into South Florida rivers and estuaries. Mast was among those arguing the level of the lake needed to be kept at a lower level to prevent such damaging releases.
After a tour of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, the two-term Congressman claimed victory. He said the proof was easy to see.
“This water is crystal clear, exactly what we’re looking for,” Mast said after the tour. “For the last nine out of 11 years, the estuaries have been hit with massive discharges and toxic algae blooms. This summer, things were done differently.”
Because the Corps brought the lake low during the winter-spring dry season, there was no need to discharge algae-laden water to the St. Lucie during the summer rainy season. While the environmental benefits were clear, farmers were concerned that keeping the lake too low could prove disastrous when the next extended dry period occurs.
Wilson blasts judge
A South Florida story that gained national attention involved the case of 21-year-old Deandre Somerville of West Palm Beach, who overslept on the day he was to take his place on a jury. Instead of reporting late, he ultimately made the decision to go to work without notifying the court, earning the wrath of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes.
Kastrenakes sentenced Somerville to 10 days in jail, a $223 fine, one year on probation, 150 hours of community service and ordered him to read a letter of apology in court. The judge ultimately lowered the probation to three months and the community service to 30 hours, but the whole episode drew the ire of Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson.
“Deandre Somerville is a hardworking young man who was almost going to have to check the criminal record box on future job apps because he overslept & missed jury duty,” Wilson tweeted. “Who’s going to check Judge John Kastrenakes for his monstrous misuse of authority?”
In his letter to the court, which he read aloud, Somerville took responsibility for his actions.
“This was an immature decision that I made, and I paid for with my freedom,” the letter read. Somerville later added: “I’m determined to not let this define who I am and what my future will be.”
State Sen. Bobby Powell, Jr. filed a complaint against Kastrenakes with the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. Powell claimed Kastrenakes, who is white, was guilty of “singling (Somerville) out as an example solely because of his race.”
Somerville’s Congresswoman, Frankel, said she has known the young man and his family for years and described him in glowing terms. She diverged from Wilson’s and Powell’s assessment of the judge but agreed the penalties did not fit the offense.
“We should all be respectful of the judicial system,” she tweeted. “With that said, in my opinion, the punishment was too severe and unfair.”
Dems slam “poll tax”
The controversy over last year’s constitutional amendment restoring felons’ right to vote is the latest Florida voting issue with national reverberations. This week, the 2019 state law implementing the amendment was in federal court for a hearing on whether it violated the U.S. Constitution.
Opponents of the law challenged in federal court on the grounds the requirement to pay “legal financial obligations” constituted what those opponents claimed as an unconstitutional “poll tax.” Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell was among those making that claim.
This is a modern day poll tax. Period. Florida voted to expand voting rights & we won’t allow voices to be suppressed by a minority. This is exactly why I fought to pass #HR1 to dismantle this voter suppression. #ForThePeople https://t.co/m2yAPxMeBg
— Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (@RepDMP) October 8, 2019
Voters spoke loud & clear with #Amendment4 restoring voting rights of former felons. Florida legislature trying to subvert the will of the people. It's a Poll Tax — strike it down! https://t.co/NXUBV5ID6J
— Congressman Charlie Crist (@RepCharlieCrist) October 9, 2019
Those supporting the law say the amendment clearly stated felons must “complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation,” while opponents counter financial restitution was not part of it. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle described the situation as an “administrative nightmare” and said, “the Legislature could make it a whole lot easier.”
Hinkle gave no indication of when he might rule.
On this day
Oct. 11, 1984 — Dr. Kathryn Sullivan made history by becoming the first woman to walk and work in space. Sullivan and fellow astronaut David Leestma spent more than three hours outside of the shuttle Challenger’s cargo bay.
Among the tasks performed by Sullivan and Leestma was attaching a refueling line to a tank fitting. When the work was complete, Sullivan said, “I’m going to sit back and watch the world go by.”
Oct. 12, 2002 — Former President Jimmy Carter received the honor of a lifetime when he was selected as this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Carter was selected for his decades of involvement in trying to find peaceful solutions to international problems.
Among those efforts cited were his role in facilitating the Camp David Accords in 1978 and his frequent work as an election observer. Carter said he was “humbled” by the selection, adding his “concept of human rights has grown to not only include the right to live in peace but also access to adequate health care, food and to economic opportunity.”
Lifesaving help offered
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the District of Columbia’s oldest domestic violence shelter revealed some important news. My Sister’s Place is adopting stealthy new technology that enables victims to get immediate help in life-threatening situations.
Survivors will receive a wearable panic-button device that alerts everyone in their safety net that they need help. The panic button was developed by Silent Beacon.
The technology is silent and straightforward to conceal, making the abuser often unaware others have been alerted. While an average call can take 28 seconds, notification via Silent Beacon is instantaneous.