Impeachment polarizes parties
A little more than a month ago, Democrats were divided on the matter of impeaching President Donald Trump. As reports of internal conflict between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and The Squad, persisted, moderates were opposed to even launching an inquiry — until the Ukraine call happened.
Several Democrats, including Val Demings of Orlando, were long ago committed to seeing Trump removed, but when the revelation came of a possible “quid pro quo,” the 13 delegation Democrats joined almost all of the Democratic caucus to call for an inquiry. A month later, the stories of Democratic disunity have now stopped.
The focus now goes toward how many, if any, Republicans would actually vote to impeach and how many Senators would convict. Based on his comments from last week, Naples Republican Francis Rooney was a must-have on cable news shows (see “Another Rooney out” below).
While only a handful of Democrats remain uncommitted toward the ongoing impeachment inquiry, Rooney is among only a handful of Republicans not blasting the process launched by Pelosi. But as Democrats largely unite around a common foe in Trump, Republicans are coming together against California Democrat Adam Schiff, the face on their party’s piñata.
Last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach was told to leave a closed-door, impeachment-related hearing conducted by the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Schiff. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami was denied access to witness transcripts, as was Michael Waltz of St. Augustine, who made multiple attempts to see them. None of the three are committee members.
Trump is often guilty of “unforced errors,” the most recent coming with the G-7 debacle (see “G-7 never mind” below), testing the fortitude of his defenders. Schiff is also in need of defending at times, most recently for his widely-panned “parody” before a committee hearing and a high-profile misstatement.
The President has his supporters within the delegation, none more vocal than Gaetz, who is also among Schiff’s most ardent critics. While Demings was the first among the delegation to support Trump’s impeachment, she was recently called upon to defend Schiff, describing him to Fox News’ Chris Wallace as “a person who has provided exceptional leadership.”
Demings, who is the only Floridian on the committee, also said it was “amazing” that the focus recently turned toward Schiff’s words instead of what Trump had actually done.
A few hours before the measure came to the floor, three-fourths of the 183 Republicans were on board as co-sponsors. Among delegation Republicans, only Rooney had not signed on.
With Democrats in the majority, the resolution never had a chance to pass, nor even have an up-or-down vote. Democrats voted to table the resolution 218-185 with a total party-line vote. Gaetz and Rooney did not vote.
With the measure now put aside, it was back to Democrats issuing subpoenas and Trump administration officials refusing to comply. In other words, back to the new normal.
Scott: Move China Olympics
For years, the Olympics have been rife with politics from the way they are awarded as well as athlete protests and judging controversies. In 1980, the U.S. boycotted the Moscow games following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan while the Soviets and 16 other countries boycotted the 1984 games in Los Angeles mostly as payback for 1980.
With China set to host the 2022 Winter Games, Sen. Rick Scott believes the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should find another location. Scott has been a frequent vocal critic of China’s trade policies, human rights violations, and their actions toward Hong Kong.
“The Olympic Games are an incredible opportunity to allow the world’s best athletes to represent their countries, and should not be hosted by Communist China and President Xi (Xinping), who does not value human rights,” Scott wrote to IOC President Thomas Bach. “I ask this committee to stand up for freedom and urge Communist China to do the right thing, or find a new home for the 2022 Olympic Games.”
Two weeks ago, Scott sought a meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver following Silver’s initial response to the controversy involving the Houston Rockets. Silver declined.
Scott added the Olympics need to be moved for reasons other than Hong Kong. The communist regime, he insists, is a security threat to those that attend.
“The 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing will provide the Chinese government full access to a global array of dignitaries, athletes, corporations, and governments when someone simply turns on their phone, or connects to the Wi-Fi in the hotel,” Scott said. “That sort of totalitarian surveillance must be avoided at all costs.”
Flipping script on ID thieves
As thieves find new ways to gain access to Americans’ personal information, both the public and private sectors seek ways to protect potential victims. Both Florida Senators joined with Republican colleagues to introduce a bill designed to protect against identity theft.
Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio were among those proposing the Identity Theft Victims Protection Act, which would help identity theft victims recover more quickly. The bill calls for holding identity thieves accountable by requiring the fraudulent actions to be added to the perpetrator’s credit history, instead of the history of the innocent victim.
“The Identity Theft Victims Protection Act holds identity thieves accountable by removing fraudulent transactions from an innocent victim’s credit history and transferring it to the criminal’s history instead,” Scott, the bill’s sponsor, said in a joint release. “This common-sense legislation will improve the lives of so many Americans who have spent weeks, months and even years, seeking relief after the crime.”
In addition to the changes in credit history reporting, the bill calls notifying all other consumer reporting agencies to enable them to take the same action to hold the victim harmless and accurately report the fraudulent transaction in the criminal’s credit history report.
“Unfortunately, I am all too aware of how common the problem of identity theft is, especially in Florida,” Rubio said in a joint news release. “Fraudsters have traditionally targeted Florida’s senior citizens, and it is time for Congress to support victims of identity theft and hold thieves accountable for preying on our nation’s most vulnerable.”
Along with Rubio, the bill’s other original co-sponsors Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Human Rights Council adds Venezuela
In another strange occurrence that can happen only at the United Nations, the world body held elections for seats on the U.N. Human Rights Council. Winning one of the seats was Venezuela, despite dogged opposition from Costa Rica to deny them a place.
Dogging the socialist country is malnutrition, disease and violence, as well as accusations that the government is engaged in money laundering and supporting terrorism. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly last month, Guterres said that 4 million people had fled the country, which he called “one of the largest displacements in the world.”
Scott said those who love freedom should be “horrified” by the vote. He also spoke for many who believe the time for the effectiveness of the U.N. may have passed.
“This just proves that more and more, the United Nations is a joke,” Scott said in a statement. “The United States should immediately cut the United Nations’ funding in half. We’re not the United Nations’ bank — and we shouldn’t be paying for Maduro’s seat at the table.”
The issue gained little play in American media, but the State Department joined Scott in its outrage.
“(T)he Council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy — with some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the Council itself,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “Its membership includes authoritarian governments with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records, such as China, Cuba and Venezuela.
“These are among the reasons why the United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council in 2018.”
G-7 at Doral? Nevermind
When Trump sent acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to tell the media next year’s G-7 meeting would be held at Trump’s Doral resort, some were caught by surprise, but many thought he might take that step. Sen. Elizabeth Warren described the move as “corruption, plain and simple.”
West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel said Trump was “abusing the office of the presidency and violating law” by directing domestic and foreign funds into the property he owns. The House Appropriations Committee tweeted the House has blocked “multiple times” the use of any funds directed to Trump’s properties.
The idea earned some support when Rubio told a Bloomberg News reporter: “Selfishly as a Floridian, Senator from Florida, I think it’s great any time our community gets that kind of attention.”
In the end, the White House said never mind. Trump announced via Twitter the meeting will not be held at Doral and will be moved, possibly to Camp David.
“I think he knows people think it looks lousy,” Mulvaney told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.
Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell claimed victory after the President’s reversal.
“We stood up for the rule of law and demanded the President not use his office to line his own pockets,” she tweeted. “There is no defending the President’s actions surrounding this flagrant corruption — I will continue to hold him accountable and defend our Constitution.
Gaetz v. McConnell
Trump’s decision to move U.S. resources and personnel from Northern Syria has put him on opposite sides of most Republicans, including erstwhile allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. With few exceptions, those who support the President’s strategy are not rushing to provide a full-throated response.
Gaetz is one of those exceptions. In what was almost dueling op-eds Gaetz and Freedom Caucus Chair Andy Biggs of Arizona fully supported the Trump strategy while McConnell wrote for The Washington Post the move was “a grave strategic mistake.”
“No other nation can match our capability to spearhead multinational campaigns that can defeat terrorists and help stabilize the region,” McConnell wrote. “Libya and Syria both testify to the bloody results of the Obama administration’s “leading from behind.”
Gaetz and Biggs argue in a piece for Fox News that Trump was doing what he promised he would do, and if Congress is upset, they can vote to authorize military action. They also picked up on Trump’s use of “endless wars” as justification for the withdrawal.
“The loudest voices we hear from Washington advocate for the status quo,” they wrote. “But how long is the United States supposed to protect the (Kurds) from the Turks? Is it to be, as one former Republican presidential candidate said, maybe 100 years?”
While the view of Gaetz and Biggs looks to remain in the minority for the foreseeable future, a human catastrophe in Syria, and the pictures coming from it, will be worth far more than a thousand words.
Yoho backs China policy
The Chinese have been accustomed to doing things in the U.S. that, in turn, the U.S. is not allowed to do in China, but that may be coming to an end. Last week, the State Department announced that it is now mandatory for Chinese diplomats in the United States to notify the U.S. government before visiting state or local officials as well as academic or research institutions.
The new policy, known as “reciprocity,” is a concept the Trump administration is focusing upon to require China to compete fairly or suffer consequences. China makes the same requirements of American diplomats in their country.
Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho said on Twitter:
The days of #China having the best of both worlds are over. I applaud the Trump Admin for enforcing “reciprocity” to pressure China to compete fairly or suffer consequences. This is the right move & long overdue. https://t.co/ykttsJGUuk
— Ted Yoho (@RepTedYoho) October 18, 2019
Yoho is the ranking member on the House subcommittee overseeing policy on Asia and the Pacific.
The Chinese Embassy countered with a tweet saying the State Department’s restrictions violate the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and that China imposes no similar restrictions on U.S. diplomats.
Earlier this year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a bipartisan report detailing how the Chinese government treats U.S. diplomats and prevents U.S. public diplomacy in China. Chinese officials routinely require and then deny permission for U.S. diplomats to engage with various actors and institutions in China, the report states.
Yoho and others note a side benefit of the U.S. government now having access to significantly more information regarding the way Chinese government officials are operating to spread their influence here in the United States.
Lawson advocates for athletes
As a former college athlete, Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee has taken a personal interest in student-athletes. Recent issues, such as the new California law allowing college athletes to profit from their own likeness, has raised the profile of the overall status of student-athletes.
Lawson, a basketball standout at Florida A&M University, recently wrote to Speaker Pelosi to request the creation of a Select Committee on Student-Athletes that would focus on the well-being and rights of our nation’s student-athletes. He spoke of the obstacles those students face.
“Student-athletes are the backbone of any athletic program and give so much of themselves and their talents to their schools,” he wrote. “As Members of Congress, we must work to protect the interests of our students academically, medically and professionally.”
Lawson hopes the select committee will focus on the “one-and-done” rule, the definition of “amateur,” and guaranteeing that student-athletes and former student-athletes have a path to completing their degrees.
Earlier this year, he reintroduced the NCAA Act of 2019, which would eliminate the “one and done” rule, provide medical coverage for sports-related injuries, and create an easier process for student-athletes to gain work opportunities while in school.
“College athletes and their families deserve respect and fair legislation that protect their rights,” Lawson added. “While there are many layers to the pressures and responsibilities student-athletes face, creating a select committee like this, with as many voices as possible, is the first step in truly supporting our young men and women.”
Posey opponent favors term limits
The Democratic challenger to Rockledge Republican Bill Posey has tossed a populist issue into the looming campaign. Jim Kennedy, who seeks the seat from Florida’s 8th Congressional District, is touting his support for term limits and pointing out Posey’s silence.
U.S. Term Limits (USTL), the most well-known of the pro-term limits groups, announced that Kennedy had signed its congressional term limits pledge. The pledge calls for co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would limit House members to three terms (six years) and senators to two terms (12 years).
“It’s naive and negligent to think that you are the only one who can do the job after over a decade,” Kennedy said in a news release issued by USTL. He then quoted Posey’s call for “fresh faces” during his first term, prompting Kennedy to say Pose was “right then, and still right now.
Posey was first elected in 2008 and reelected five times since.
“We applaud Jim Kennedy for standing with 82 percent of Americans by making a commitment to real term limits,” USTL spokesman Nick Tomboulides. “It is disappointing that incumbent Congressman Bill Posey refuses to sign this same pledge.”
Tomboulides was referring to a 2019 poll by McLaughlin & Associates, which also found 67 percent of Americans believe term limits for members of the U.S. House should be six years or fewer.
Medicare expansion proposed
Medicare frequently serves as a literal lifeline to U.S. seniors who depend on it for needed medical care. A group of Florida Democrats and the Republican representative from Puerto Rico believe other American citizens need greater access to Medicare’s benefits.
To help expand health care subsidies to U.S. territories, Reps. Darren Soto of Kissimmee, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, and Donna Shalala of Coral Gables joined with Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, to introduce legislation to accomplish that goal.
“Though these territories face many inequities, poverty — particularly among seniors — may be their most daunting challenge to overcome,” Shalala, the bill’s sponsor, said. “This bill is an important step toward alleviating poverty among seniors in Puerto Rico and other territories with aging populations, and it is also a meaningful stride toward better and more equitable treatment for American citizens who have for too long been ignored.”
Specifically, the bill will amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide particular low-income territorial residents with automatic eligibility for premium and cost-sharing subsidies under the Medicare program, and for other purposes.
“Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories deserve to be treated fairly,” said Murphy, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. “I’m proud to support this bipartisan bill that ensures low-income seniors in Puerto Rico receive the same assistance as their fellow Americans in Florida and other states to help them better afford their prescription drugs.”
The LIS program, also called “Extra Help,” will help these low-income individuals by providing subsidies to fully or partially cover out-of-pocket expenses under the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. This includes premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and the elimination of the prescription drug coverage gap and waiving the penalty for late enrollment into Medicare Part D.
“No senior should ever have to forego vital, lifesaving health care just because of where they live,” Soto, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said. “At a time when Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories are still suffering from the long-standing injustice of poverty, it’s more imperative than ever that we ensure our communities get the care they deserve.”
As it stands currently, residents of U.S. territories are not allowed to receive LIS under Part D. Instead of the low-income subsidy, territorial residents receive a fixed amount to provide Medicaid covered prescription drugs for all low-income beneficiaries. This type of funding can be significantly less than the amount of financial support they would receive if they were eligible for the LIS program.
Buchanan brings back Goodman
One year out from the 2020 elections, political campaigns are beginning to bring on key staff to run their ship. In the race for District 16, incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan has brought on a trusted veteran to run his reelection effort.
Buchanan announced Max Goodman would reprise his 2018 role as campaign manager. Goodman led a 2018 campaign that saw the Longboat Key Republican cruise to a 10-point victory in the year of a blue wave.
“We’re thrilled to have Max back again to run the campaign,” Buchanan said. “He’s a talented and respected professional who understands the district and needs of our communities and oversaw our 33,000-vote win last year against David Shapiro.”
The history between Buchanan and Goodman goes further than that. The veteran operative ran Buchanan’s first campaign in 2006, after which went to work for the newly-elected Congressman.
Goodman left in 2015 to take over the Senate campaign of Republican David Jolly, who left the race after Rubio abandoned his presidential bid and decided to seek reelection. Jolly said Buchanan is getting the best.
“Unquestionably I think Max is the best in the business in the state of Florida, and the reason why is in the campaign industry there are lots of capable consultants, but there are very few warriors, and Goodman’s a warrior,” he said.
Last month, Buchanan’s opponent, state Rep. Margaret Good, hired former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer Kevin Lata to run her campaign.
Red Tide scare
A report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission showing red tide reappearing in Sarasota and Manatee waterways had Buchanan demanding action. On Monday, the delegation co-chair demanded Senate leadership pass a measure authorizing immediate research of the algal threat.
“We need to know how much of a threat red tide is to human health,” Buchanan said. “We know of the temporary physical discomfort it causes, but we don’t know much beyond that. Now we need to find out if exposure presents a long-term threat to human health.”
He sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby calling for swift passage of $6.25 million in funding for the National Institutes of Health to study harmful algal blooms, money already approved by the U.S. House with broad bipartisan support. That’s on top of $100 million package already signed into law that broadly studied harmful algae, and some $8 million approved in the 2018 budget designated for red tide research.
Another Rooney out
It looks like one member of the Florida Delegation is ready for retirement. Rooney announced in a Fox News appearance on Saturday he will not seek a third term.
“I’ve done what I came to do,” said the staunch term limits supporter.
The move isn’t a complete shock, as Rooney raised very little for reelection so far this year. That said, he still sat on nearly $597,295 in cash on hand, so most observers expected he’d serve one more term before calling it quits.
And notably, Rooney’s announcement came after his aforementioned criticism of President Donald Trump. Rooney spoke to several national outlets after Mulvaney seemed to acknowledge a quid pro quo in a news conference. Rooney said that was startling.
“The only thing I can assume is he meant what he had to say,” Rooney said of Mulvaney.
Of course, with Rooney off the ballot in 2020, there’s a slew of Republicans openly considering a run for the seat, including state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Reps. Dane Eagle, Bob Rommel, Byron Donalds and Spencer Roach, Lee County Commissioners Cecil Pendergrass, and South Florida Water Management District member Chauncey Goss. Other rumored contenders include Lee County Commissioner Brian Hammon, radio host Drew Steele and former state Rep. Gary Aubuchon.
On the Democrat side, Cindy Banyai has already filed, but the heavily Republican district went to Rooney by 62 percent last year.
College Affordability Act introduced
Two South Florida Democrats joined with several colleagues to introduce legislation they believe will immediately lower the cost of college for millions of students. Reps. Shalala and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens signed on as original co-sponsors of the College Affordability Act (ACT) sponsored by Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott.
The bill would, among other things, have Pell Grants cover larger shares of tuition, provide 44 million holding student loans with more generous repayment plans, a crackdown on predatory for-profit colleges that leave students with higher debt, and simplifying the application process.
“The cost of getting a college degree has not only limited the social mobility of working and middle-class families, but it has also stifled the American dream,” said Shalala in a news release. “I firmly believe that if you study hard and apply yourself, a college education should not only be accessible, but affordable — that is why I am proud to work with my fellow committee members in introducing this legislation.”
The bill also increases funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other Minority Serving Institutions. Another provision calls for blocking Education Secretary (Betsy) DeVos’s “survivor-blaming Title IX rule” and implement stronger accountability measures to track and prevent cases of sexual assault, harassment and hazing.
“America’s higher education system is broken. Today, we’re introducing a bold proposal to fix it,” tweeted Wilson. “he #CollegeAffordabilityAct is a comprehensive plan to cut the cost of college so that students can spend less and earn more.”
On this day
Oct. 22, 1962 — President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation, revealing the Soviet Union is installing missiles in Cuba that are pointed at the U.S. A nervous nation, especially those in Florida, watched as the President ordered a blockade of Russian ships heading to Cuba.
Kennedy also summoned Congressional leadership to Washington for a briefing on the situation. Among those called was Florida Democratic Sen. George Smathers, who hastily jumped onto a plane from MacDill Air Force Base. Smathers is one of Kennedy’s close confidantes.
Oct. 22, 2003 — Florida Democratic Party officials were planning a straw poll to help gauge the strength of the nine candidates for President, but the candidates firmly said “no.” The candidates, backed by Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, said they would not participate in the party convention in Florida, or any state that conducts a straw poll.
Party officials will meet in a few weeks to decide how to proceed, but the history of such polls is mixed. Both Al Gore and Bill Bradley refused to participate four years ago, but Bill Clinton credited his surprising win in the 1992 straw poll to getting his campaign moving.