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Congress confronting China
It is safe to say Hong Kong has descended into chaos. The situation deteriorated earlier in the week when one of the protest leaders, Jimmy Sham, was attacked by thugs wielding hammers.
Before the escalation of violence, the reaction by China and the NBA to a tweet in support of protesters by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey was chaotic as well. When Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar LeBron James criticized Morey as being “uninformed,” it became too much for many to take.
“The @NBA is more concerned about selling jerseys and shoes than they are about freedom,” tweeted Sen. Rick Scott. “As Americans, we should all support freedom around the globe, and this is our time to #StandwithHongKong.
This week, the House unanimously passed three measures in support of the protesters. One of the measures, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would require the U.S. Secretary of State to certify every year that Hong Kong retained its autonomy to keep receiving the special treatment that has allowed it to be a major financial center.
China warned it would take countermeasures if the legislation is passed and signed by President Donald Trump. That prompted a response from Sen. Marco Rubio, who is the sponsor of the Senate companion to the House Hong Kong bill.
“#China authoritarians say our #HongKong democracy bill is dangerous & arrogant,” he tweeted. “But dangerous is Beijing’s brazen effort to violate their international commitments. And arrogance is their view they can control HK yet still claim its autonomous.”
Hong Kong has become one of the rare issues where both parties have solidly come together. The message is similar.
“The United States stands in solidarity with freedom-loving people in Hong Kong and around the world,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist in a statement. “We must not be silent in the face of oppression.”
Some question whether China will hold any trade deal as leverage against the enactment of the pro-Hong Kong legislation. The Senate is expected to approve either the House bill or Rubio’s, leaving it up to Trump.
With a veto override a foregone conclusion, he is likely to sign it. Money over freedom didn’t play very well for James and the NBA, and it would be worse for the President.
Trump’s economic pushback on China was one thing, but President Xi Xinping is about to have the entire U.S. Congress shoving as well.
Tip sharing bill filed
Scott has been highly critical of the FBI’s failure to follow up on tips that could have prevented the shootings in Parkland last year. He and several Parkland families have sought information from the bureau but have received no satisfaction.
The first-term Republican introduced legislation this week that requires the FBI to share information with local law enforcement when a tip relevant to their area is received. Parkland parents joined him as the Threat Information Protocol for Sharing (TIPS) Act was announced.
“We cannot accept the repeated failures of the FBI to properly investigate and act on specific tips received about the Parkland shooter, as well as other perpetrators of mass violence in Florida,” Scott said. “I’m proud to stand with the family members of the victims to announce the TIPS Act, which bridges the gap between federal and state law enforcement agencies by mandating information sharing of all state-specific criminal intelligence tips.”
Scott’s bill directs the Government Accountability Office to review and make recommendations to improve the FBI’s processes and procedures in its operation of the national tip line.
It also directs the FBI to annually report to Congress the number of criminal events associated with tips and information received through the national tip line, and the FBI’s investigative action(s) based on such tips and information.
“This is about getting information on threats into the hands of the right people, who can ultimately prevent violence and protect our families,” he added.
House rebukes Trump on Syria
In addition to opposing the troop pullback, the resolution calls for Turkey to cease its military action in Syria. The measure also says the White House should present a plan for an “enduring defeat” of the Islamic State group.
The resolution was nonbinding, and even if Congress had the power to order the troops back to Syria, critics say the damage is already done.
Rubio said that “there are some mistakes that are not easy to reverse. And there are some that are irreversible.”
Those Republicans voting with Democrats on the resolution were Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, Ross Spano of Dover, and Michael Waltz of St. Augustine. Those not voting were Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Republicans Francis Rooney of Naples, Daniel Webster of Clermont and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
While the House minority leadership joined in passing the resolution, problems developed in the Senate. An attempt to pass the House version by voice vote was blocked by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters on this issue.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also panned the House resolution saying something “stronger” is needed. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who has been a staunch critic Trump’s move, predicted the House version would get 80 votes if it were brought to the floor.
Targets raise big bucks
Fundraising reports for the third quarter were finalized this week, with a few noteworthy figures coming from the Florida delegation. Those targeted by the opposition party’s Congressional campaign committee mostly flourished.
The best fundraising quarter belonged to Palm City Republican Brian Mast, who reported $584,137, which brought him to $1.2 million raised this year and left him with $910,216 cash on hand. Mast, a 2020 target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), also spent the most among the 27 delegation House members during the quarter with $312,336 going out.
Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a target of the Republican National Congressional Committee (RNCC), brought in $461,488 in contributions during the quarter, plus another $40,000 in committee transfer money for a total of $501,490. That brings her above $1.6 million total for the year. Another RNCC target, Rep. Crist, raised $402,943 and leaving him with the delegation’s most significant $2.6 million.
Mast’s opponent, former Deputy Solicitor General Oz Vazquez, reported raising $100,000 in the two days following his October announcement. The best fundraiser among the multiple challengers to Crist’s District 13 seat was Amanda Maki, who reported $197,739 for the quarter with $403,000 cash on hand.
Irina Vilarino raised slightly more than $100,000 for her District 26 challenge against Mucarsel-Powell, leaving her with $341,000 cash on hand. Omar Blanco, Vilarino’s primary challenger, raised $102,555 and has $91,328 on hand.
The NRCC is also targeting first-term Democrat Donna Shalala, who raised $313,907 for the quarter, $1.1 million for the year, with $785,310 on hand. Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, whom Shalala defeated in 2018, reported raising $504,000 despite being in the race for only two months. She was somewhat helped along by a $50,000 personal loan to the campaign.
While incumbents have substantially more money than their challengers, Spano, a high priority DCCC target, is likely in for a fight in District 15. He raised $116,788 and finished the quarter with $71,019 cash on hand.
Spano is making a substantial dent in the debt he owes stemming from campaign loans that have under review by the House Ethics Committee. His two prominent Democratic opponents, Alan Cohn and Adam Hattersley, raised $72,692 and $114,474 respectively during their first quarter as official candidates.
Longboat Key Republican Buchanan, another DCCC target, reported $362,522 for the quarter, $1.25 million for the year, d $533,938 cash on hand. Buchanan’s opponent, state Rep. Margaret Good, reported $450,333 for her first quarter as a candidate.
Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy, the final NRCC target, raised $289,460 and $1.4 million for the year with $841,257 cash on hand. The total for her three announced Republican opponents was $23,500 combined.
Committee members mourn Cummings
The sudden passing of Maryland Democrat and House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings came as a shock to many outside of Washington. Through his role on the committee, he became known around the country for his testy exchanges with Trump administration officials and his more recent role in the Trump impeachment inquiry.
The words from those commenting on his passing ranged from gracious to laudatory to heartbroken sadness. The delegation was represented on the committee by freshman Republican Greg Steube of Sarasota and Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schulz.
“I am saddened to hear of the loss of Chairman Elijah Cummings, my colleague on the House Oversight and Reform Committee,” Steube said in a statement. “It was an honor to have the opportunity to serve with such a storied member of Congress in my first term. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maya, family, friends, staff, and the people of Baltimore during this time.”
Wasserman Schulz appeared on CNN just a few hours after Cummings had passed and offered an emotional tribute.
“He was a mentor and someone who, in every situation, would do the right thing; would put his community and the cause above everything else, including himself. To watch him struggle with the health problems he had, to lead the Oversight Committee, and to push to make sure the Constitution and our nation’s principles were upheld was a privilege that I know that I will never experience again.”
Gaetz given the boot
Tensions remain high and there are still many questions left to both ask and answer when it comes to the impeachment inquiry into the President. Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz sought some answers by trying to crash a closed-door hearing but was ultimately ejected.
Gaetz, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, attempted to attend the testimony of former Deputy Assistant to the President Fiona Hill, but was asked to leave because he was not a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He made comments about “selective leaks” by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and asked why he was not allowed to be present because the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, was involved in the impeachment inquiry.
“Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler claimed to have begun the impeachment inquiry weeks ago,” Gaetz said on Twitter after leaving the hearing room. “Now, his own Judiciary members aren’t even allowed to participate in it. And yes — my constituents want me actively involved in stopping the #KangarooCourtCoup run by Shifty Schiff.”
In a related move, Diaz-Balart sought to read the classified documents behind the impeachment effort but was denied.
“This morning, I was denied access to any and all classified documents related to impeachment, said Diaz-Balart on Twitter. “In my nearly 17 years in Congress, this is the first time that I’ve been unable to review documentation being held at the House Intel Committee. This is completely unacceptable.”
Murphy, Waltz make Medal of Honor case
Murphy’s efforts to get a Seminole County Iraq War hero considered for the Medal of Honor picked up support from Waltz, himself an Army Reserves lieutenant colonel and Green Beret veteran.
The effort, on behalf of the late Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Crendall Cashe of Oviedo, also picked up the backing of Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Navy SEALs veteran. On Thursday, Murphy, Waltz and Crenshaw wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, urging them to take up the case to have Cashe’s Silver Star upgraded to the Medal of Honor, the highest award that the military bestows. Murphy has been working for the upgrade for nearly two years.
Cache died from severe burns and other wounds he sustained in Iraq in 2005, but not before he saved the lives of several fellow soldiers. An improvised explosive device struck a vehicle that he, six other soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were inside. It killed the interpreter and ruptured the fuel tank, setting the vehicle ablaze. Cache, though on fire himself, dragged his fellow soldiers out to safety, returning to the vehicle several times. All the other soldiers survived, but Cache died three weeks later.
“SFC Cashe has become something of a legend in military circles, the object of profound respect and even reverence,” their letter states.
Elections and changing demographics
Florida will again be a must-win state if Trump is to win reelection. As the state grows more diverse, especially in larger metropolitan areas, minority voters are expected to play a more significant role.
The 2018 American Community Survey released by the census bureau tracked changes in demographics from 2010 through 2018. The study shows a rapidly-changing Florida.
Statewide, the Hispanic population has risen 32 percent in eight years, making it 26 percent of the overall populace. The black population now comprises 15 percent of Floridians while Asians and “other” make up six percent. Whites represent 53 percent of Floridians.
A look at Florida’s 9th Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee, shows Hispanics now represent a plurality of the district. That demographic, fueled by Puerto Rican relocations, rose by 60 percent over the last eight years.
“This is sort of the manifest destiny of Puerto Ricans leaving the northeast because it is cold and it is expensive and leaving the island because of its troubles there,” Soto said, who also added that spells trouble for Trump.
Soto said Puerto Ricans in his district have fixated on Trump’s “disastrous and deadly response” to Hurricane Maria’s devastation on the island and “it is really hard to separate that from any other part of Puerto Ricans’ opinion on him at this point.”
Scott, who got high marks among Puerto Ricans for his Hurricane Maria response while Governor, earned 48 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2018, yet only barely won. Trump cannot expect a similar showing among those voters.
Other districts, such as District 26 represented by Mucarsel-Powell, is now 72 percent Hispanic. White residents have declined by four percent since 2010.
Vets treatment bill advances
Reports indicate military veterans are denied benefits for which they are entitled by being charged with nonviolent crimes. To assist these veterans, Crist and New York Republican Elise Stefanik are pushing the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019.
This week the legislation gained the approval of the House Judiciary Committee by a voice vote. The next stop is the House floor.
“Pinellas and Pasco counties have been blessed with a veterans treatment court program that offers lifesaving and life-changing second chances to nonviolent veterans caught in the criminal justice system,” Crist said in a news release. “Unfortunately, many veterans live in communities where these options don’t exist. “The Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act will expand and bolster existing vet courts, while helping communities without one set up their own.
The legislation directs the Attorney General and Department of Justice to establish a Veteran’s Treatment Court Program to provide grants and technical assistance for state, local, and tribal governments designed to develop and maintain veteran’s treatment courts.
Many veterans returning from service experience mental health issues, substance abuse and homelessness, which, unfortunately, often leads to landing in the criminal justice system. These treatment courts will provide counseling, care, and support these veterans need to face these challenges and provide a smoother transition to civilian life.
The bill has 133 co-sponsors, including 22 from the delegation.
Wildlife bill gains support
With a new report showing nearly one-third of the North American bird population has disappeared over the past 50 years, Buchanan says Congress must act. He called for passage of legislation to address habitat loss for America’s wildlife.
Buchanan is the primary co-sponsor of the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, which would authorize the Interior secretary to establish National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands as well as designate a $50 million grant program for states, localities and private landowners to increase connectivity for native species.
“Birds play a vital role in our ecosystem, contributing to the pollination of plants needed for food and pest control,” Buchanan said in a news release. “This sobering report showcases how at-risk birds and other wildlife are to habitat loss. Establishing wildlife corridors is one of the most effective ways to help threatened wildlife.”
Recently coming out in support of the bill was Audubon Florida, who said the legislation would help address the loss of bird habitat. The wildlife corridors are an idea whose time has come.
“Migrating birds often flock to the same places of high protein, cover, and water that large mammals use during their migrations,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell. “These corridors will also prove essential for wildlife and habitat migrating upslope ahead of sea-level rise.”
The bill was introduced in the U.S. House by Buchanan and Virginia Democrat Don Beyer in May and has earned support from a wide range of leaders from the scientific community and outdoor recreation industry, including a broad coalition of more than 200 conservation organizations.
Okeechobee eviction notice
It looks like Steube will need some new office space in Okeechobee County. The freshman Congressman received notice last week that Okeechobee County would be evicting him from his office there.
“Pleased be advised that this property is no longer surplus to our needs,” wrote County Administer Robbie Chartier in a letter to Steube. Chartier offered to help locate new office space in the area but said aides Libby Bolles and Sydney Gruters need to vacate the current locale and turn in security badges no later than Nov. 15.
Steube expressed disappointment but promised to keep in touch with his inland constituents.
“I had intended to keep this office open throughout my time in Congress to serve the people of Okeechobee and surrounding counties, and I am disappointed that I will no longer be able to do so,” he said. “However, my commitment to the people of Okeechobee does not end with the closing of this office. I will continue to visit the area to meet with constituents, and my staff will hold regular office hours to assist local constituents with any issues they may have.”
That will start on Nov. 21, when Steube’s staff will hold pop-up office hours from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Okeechobee County Chamber of Commerce.
Rooney shades Giuliani
For his role in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a hero to many Republicans and Democrats. His association with Trump, especially recently, has led to alienation from Democrats and even some Republicans.
Naples Republican Francis Rooney is among those who recently spoke out against Giuliani’s involvement in the effort to impeach the President and his active role in matters involving Ukraine. The latter drew strong comments for the two-term Republican from Naples.
“I worry a lot about nonprofessionals pursuing diplomacy in the name of” American diplomacy, said Rooney, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Rooney noted: “More things keep coming up in the investigation,” and the investigation should look at who “who else was involved.”
Leaks are the primary source of information provided behind closed doors, prompting Republicans to cry foul. Rooney supports the overall effort to get at the truth and compared the President’s oft-repeated statement to the most famous Congressional investigation in history.
“They called Watergate a witch hunt,” Rooney noted.
Trump court defeat celebrated
Federal courts have again blocked attempts by the Trump administration to make changes to the nation’s legal immigration system. Judges in New York City, Washington and San Francisco blocked the “Public Charge” order that would have denied visas and green cards to those immigrants likely to require public assistance.”
“An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law,” said Ken Cuccinelli, head of the administration’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
With the new regulations set to take effect this week, the rulings were welcome news to most Democrats. Wasserman Schultz said the courts stopped the cruelty.
Trump’s vicious and cruel war on immigrants has caused so much pain, but his proposed Public Charge Rule would only discourage families from seeking medicine, shelter and food.
Thank you to all those who fought this immoral policy. https://t.co/ia9sJwU1ZJ
— Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@RepDWStweets) October 12, 2019
Florida’s oasis in D.C.
Florida is the only state in the nation with its own “embassy” in Washington D.C. Perched directly behind the Supreme Court is a historic Victorian row house that his home to a small team of people seeking to provide a home base for Florida politicians, students and anyone traveling from Florida to D.C.
Despite its unique presence, The Florida House is a little-known slice of Florida in Washington D.C.
The Florida House is the brainchild of Rhea Chiles, wife of former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles.
Chiles raised $120,000 in private funds and the couple put in $5,000 of their own money to purchase the property and rehabilitate it. It opened in 1973.
To this day, The Florida House operates using private funds, ensuring The Florida House remain a nonpartisan place for Floridians to gather.
The House hosts meetings with Florida Congressional Delegation members, offers tours, displays Florida art, and something rare in Washington D.C. — parking.
“The one thing you will not see on Capitol Hill anywhere is a driveway. We have one,” Beckman said. “We can help you have a successful experience in D.C. by being an event space, where people can come to congregate.”
On this day
Oct. 18, 1989 — Hopes faded to find survivors trapped in cars buried under a collapsed Oakland, California freeway following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the day before. Rescuers reported hearing a voice, but it was the sound coming from a radio.
President George Bush signed a disaster declaration, making federal funds immediately available to the area and pledging to “take every step and make every effort to help.” The quake struck less than 30 minutes before Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s was set to begin.
Oct. 18, 2017 — A call from Trump to the widow of a slain soldier has turned into a political shouting match that has accused the President of being “insensitive.” Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson was with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger, when Trump called to offer condolences.
Both Wilson and Johnson’s family took exception to Trump, saying: “You know this could happen when you signed up for it, but it still hurts” and describing the late soldier as “your guy.” Trump fired back at Wilson via Twitter: “Democratic Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action.”
Family, friends, colleagues and former constituents mourned the passing this week of former Congressman Lou Frey. The Republican from central Florida served for 10 years in the House and is credited with playing a major role in acquiring the land that led to the construction of Orlando International Airport.
Along with former Sen. Bob Graham, Frey is also remembered as a champion for teaching civics to young students. He established the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida as a way to make that a reality.
Following retirement, Frey could be seen and heard offering political analysis via radio and television. He was 85.