GOP strategy now clear
Republicans battling the ongoing impeachment inquiry have seemed disjointed as they try to criticize the Democrats’ push to remove President Donald Trump from office. This week, they fought the first battle of the new strategy to attack the process.
On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz from Fort Walton Beach organized and led a high-profile media event to draw attention to what Republicans describe as “Soviet-style” closed-door hearings.
Gaetz and about 30 colleagues stole a crowded news cycle when multiple descriptions said they “stormed” a secret meeting of lawmakers conducting a deposition of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Laura Cooper.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Cooper left the room soon after the Republicans entered.
“Adam Schiff’s impeachment inquiry has been marked by secret interviews, selective leaks, weird theatrical performances of transcripts that never happened, and lies about contact with a whistleblower,” Gaetz said before heading for the door.
Among those in the group was Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine. Waltz has recently stepped up his criticism of Schiff’s handling of the process.
“I have fought from Afghanistan to West Africa,” Waltz said. “I have operated in third-world countries who have a fairer process to deal with their elected leadership than what we’re seeing today.”
Waltz later added Schiff was threatening the Republicans with ethics violations. Some of those entering the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) were carrying cellphones, which are prohibited.
Also taking part was Dover Republican Ross Spano, who questioned the secrecy, noting the nature of Cooper’s testimony was not classified.
On the other side, Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the process has uncovered “far too much fact for their comfort level, so they have to try to stop it from moving forward.”
Wasserman Schultz was referring to leaks coming from a recent closed-door meeting indicating Trump’s top envoy to Ukraine, William Taylor, provided damaging information against the President.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rallying Senate Republicans behind the war on the process. He understands that some of his fellow Republican Senators are not big fans of the President, with some often offering criticism.
Before Gaetz and his colleagues made their move, McConnell said Trump deserves to be defended against the House process, which he described as “unprecedented and unfair.”
One day after the House Republicans’ move, McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a resolution condemning the House process. They also demanded a formal vote on the impeachment inquiry.
As of late Thursday, both Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio were among the 44 of the 53 GOP Senators signing on.
Rubio criticizes Syria deal
This week’s announcement of a deal for security in northern Syria was a chance for Trump to claim victory. The arrangement negotiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for Russian and Syrian troops to patrol the area formerly occupied by Kurds and U.S. forces.
“Let someone else fight over this bloodstained sand,” Trump said.
While Trump talked about a cessation of attacks on the Kurds, Rubio tweeted:
Erdogan has NOT agreed to stop all military operations in #Syria #Russia is going to:
-Remove Kurdish forces from east & west of current Turk controlled areas,including Kurdish cities
-Help #Turkey push all SDF forces 30km south from entire border
-Take control of 5 oil fields
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 23, 2019
Some of Trump’s critics from his decision to pull out of the region were encouraged, including South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said he is now “optimistic” things will work out. Rubio remains a skeptic.
Despite criticizing the original decision to withdraw from Syria, Rubio was a frequent target on Twitter for not tagging Trump in his tweets or mentioning his name. His most recent criticism involving the Syria deal will not satisfy his critics, either.
Voters approve of Scott, Rubio
Both Scott and Rubio enjoy respectable approval ratings according to a new poll. The survey released by the University of North Florida found a strong plurality approved of their job performance.
Among respondents, 48 percent approve of the job Rubio is doing while 34 percent disapprove. The poll shows Scott with a 49 percent approval rating and 32 percent disapproval.
Among Republicans, 76 percent approve of Rubio, compared to 26 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of independents. Those disapproving are 55 percent of Democrats, 16 percent of Republicans and 31 percent among independents.
Scott enjoys a 77 percent approval rating, while 28 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of independents also approve. Among Democrats, 56 percent disapprove along with 11 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of independents.
Democrats made up 37 percent of the survey sample, while Republicans were 35 percent of respondents along with 28 percent independents. Men made up 46 percent of the sample and women 54 percent.
The poll’s highest rating went to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has a 72 percent approval and 17 percent disapproval mark.
Rubio, Mast slam Corps
No one said Everglades restoration would happen quickly, but the latest delay has Sen.Rubio and Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City fuming at the slow pace. They are pointing fingers at the
Rubio and Mast wrote to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general over the Corps, calling them out for “unacceptable delays” and “a blatant disregard for congressional directives and intent.”
The letter comes on the anniversary of the enactment of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018. Among the items the law required, but not yet accomplished, was a feasibility study and environmental impact statement by late January.
Both are deeply interested in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) storage reservoir project, which they were able to insert into the bill as a way to eliminate the toxic water discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Those discharges are responsible for outbreaks in algal blooms.
“The congressional authorization directed the Army Corps to expedite a report on the project, and to have it completed “not later than 90 days after the date of enactment,” they wrote. “Today marks one year since the law’s enactment, and as of today, the Corps is nine months late in addressing the concerns, recommendations, and conditions necessary to inform a final feasibility report from the Secretary.”
They blasted the Corps for the projection of May 2020 “at the earliest” as the date the design and construction of the reservoir would begin. They described that timetable as “simply unacceptable.”
“We request an updated timeline for completion of the final report, including a description of outstanding issues remaining to be resolved, to be provided to our offices and presented at next week’s South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force meeting in Washington, D.C.,” they added.
U.S. Reps. Al Lawson and Val Demings, both Democrats, teamed up on a pair of letters this week.
The first: to HUD Secretary Ben Carson.
At issue: HUD’s “Disparate Impact Rule.”
HUD established the rule in 2013, but the Trump administration is looking to make it harder for prospective renters to prove housing discrimination.
“By placing additional standards for proving disparate impact, homeowners and renters will continue to be subjected to prolonged housing discrimination,” Rep. Lawson said.
The changes will “make it significantly harder for plaintiffs to meet all the requirements, potentially threatening years of progress toward equal access to housing and credit for people of color, women, families with children and people with disabilities,” Lawson added.
Also writing to Carson was Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings, who said the proposed change “would undermine the ability of victims of systemic discrimination to seek recourse for policies and practices that limit their housing opportunities or put them in danger.”
Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Frederica Wilson submitted comments as well. The comment period has now closed.
Demings and Lawson also wrote leaders of the Florida Legislature to call for Sadowski Fund money for affordable housing not to be swept.
Rep. Demings said, “Housing is a basic human need and a basic human right. It is inappropriate and shortsighted to raid hundreds of millions from Florida’s affordable housing fund at a time when families across our state are losing their homes.”
Posey questions Zuckerberg
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the House Financial Services Committee this week, he expected questions on how the social media giant screens posts or polices the content of advertising. He received those questions, but Rockledge Republican Bill Posey took another path when he asked about the discussions on Facebook surrounding vaccinations.
After saying he believes in vaccinations for children and adults, Posey asked Zuckerberg “Is Facebook able to assure us it will support users’ fair and open discussions and communications about the risks as well as the benefits of vaccinations?”
Some believe that cases of autism trace back to certain vaccinations. Current science does not support that theory, and earlier this year, Facebook said it would no longer recommend anti-vaccination pages or groups and would seek to provide “authoritative information on the topic.”
Zuckerberg said he believes in “freedom of expression.” Still, his company seeks to “focus on misinformation that has the potential to lead to imminent or physical harm, and that can include misleading health advice.” He added anti-vaccine users are not censored, but their views are not publicized, either.
Near the end of his allotted time, Posey said he believes Facebook’s policy harms parents of disabled children. He concluded by saying: “If you look at the statistics, I think you’re making a bad mistake.”
Third security bill passes
Both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, as well as the Mueller investigation, concluded Russians used online advertisements and bots to stir up dissension during the 2016 elections. With those factors in mind, the House passed the Strengthening Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act as a step toward combating future activity in this area.
The bill passed by a vote of 227-181 with all Republicans voting against it and all Democrats except Minnesota Rep. Colin Peterson voting for it. GOP Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Greg Steube did not vote.
“Today the People’s House moved to secure Americans’ constitutional right to free and fair elections,” said Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg in a statement. “When foreign governments meddle or interfere, it’s your vote they’re attacking. This strikes at the very heart of our Republic. American elections must be decided by Americans.”
The new law would require campaigns to report any illicit offers of assistance by foreign governments or agents. It would also take steps to ensure that online political advertisements are subject to the same rules as TV and radio ads.
Republicans say the bill’s wording will lead to a violation of free speech. They touted a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), making the same claim.
The bill is destined to stall in the Senate, along with those already in limbo. Republican leadership has bottled up the For the People Act and the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, both of which passed the House along party lines.
Bilirakis backs TRANSPLANT Act
A program that carries the name of a former long-serving member of the Florida delegation is gaining support in Congress. This week Bilirakis announced this week he is signing on to the “Timely Re-Authorization of Necessary Stem-cell Programs Lends Access to Needed Therapies (TRANSPLANT) Act” which would reauthorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program and the National Cord Blood Inventory.
Young was a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who represented St. Petersburg in Congress for more than four decades until his death in 2013.
“This federal program provides critical support in the advancement of research for better treatments and the infrastructure necessary to organize registries which help ensure transplant patients have access to lifesaving procedures,’ Bilirakis said in a joint release. “Its reauthorization is vital, and I hope our colleagues will join us in expediting passage of this important legislation,” said Bilirakis.
The TRANSPLANT Act will ensure the continued provision of lifesaving transplants to treat diseases such as blood cancer, sickle cell anemia, and inherited metabolic or immune system disorders. It will focus on renewed federal funding for the vital national bone marrow and cord blood registry and coordinating centers, which facilitate bone marrow and cord blood donations.
Mobile tax simplification proposed
For those Americans whose employment causes them to temporarily work in other states, paying applicable taxes can be difficult. A bill filed by Steube would help those taxpayers.
Under current law, nonresident employees who visit a state to do work for as little as 24 hours can be subject to certain state income tax laws. This makes tax filing extremely difficult and overly burdensome for mobile workers.
“Taxes are complicated, and I think Congress should do everything in its power to simplify and standardize the tax code,” Steube said in a news release. “If this bill becomes law, Americans who work 30 days or less in a state outside of their home state will not be required to file a state income tax return for the state they are visiting.”
The Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2019 calls for simplifying and standardizing state income tax collection for employees who travel outside of their home state for temporary work assignments.
The bill provides a uniform, fair, and easily administered law and helps to ensure that the correct amount of tax is withheld and paid to the states without the undue burden that the current system places on employees and employers.
PACT Act passes House
Federal law makes it a crime to distribute animal crushing videos, but is silent on the act itself. Making animal abuse a federal crime is one step closer to reality with the passage of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act.
The bill, sponsored by Deutch with Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan as original co-sponsor, makes it a federal crime for “any person to intentionally engage in animal crushing if the animals or animal crushing is in, substantially affects, or uses a means or facility of, interstate or foreign commerce.”
“Today’s vote is a significant milestone in the bipartisan quest to end animal abuse and protect our pets,” Deutch said in a joint release. “This bill sends a clear message that our society does not accept cruelty against animals.”
The bill, co-sponsored by 22 members of the delegation and passed by a unanimous vote, would not preempt or interfere with local animal cruelty laws or enforcement. It would be a federal overlay, precisely like the federal animal fighting law.
“The torture of innocent animals is abhorrent and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Buchanan said. “Passing the PACT Act sends a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated.”
Creative ideas sought
Millions have fled the horrors taking place in Venezuela each day, with many coming to Florida seeking haven. A bipartisan group of South Florida representatives recently joined an effort designed to assist those who fled to now help those who remain.
Deutch, fellow Democrats Mucarsel-Powell and Wasserman Schultz, along with Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, took part in the launch of the Better Together Challenge on the campus of Florida International University in Miami. The challenge, launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank, will provide funding for solid ideas designed to improve the lives of people in Venezuela.
Funding can range from $25,000 for idea development to $1.5 million for profitable solutions and public sector partnerships.
“(President Nicolás) Maduro is literally starving his people,” said Wasserman Shultz. “The world needs to see the Maduro regime for what it is and fight anti-democratic criminal regimes that inflict horrific suffering on its own people.”
Diaz-Balart told the attendees in Spanish “the goal and solution in the best interest for the United States, Cuba and the entire hemisphere is to eliminate the socialist cancer,”
“All nations have a responsibility to respond to the crisis in Venezuela,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “They need innovative ideas & immediate assistance to help restore democracy.”
Deutch said concerned Americans join Venezuelan refugees who are “committed to working toward political change in Venezuela and protecting human rights for the Venezuelan people.”
PAC targets Shalala, Crist
With a majority of women traditionally voting for Democrats, the GOP has fought the fierce battle to elect more Republican women to the House and Senate. The 197-member Republican caucus is down to 13 women.
A Republican political action committee (PAC) is trying to help that along by getting behind two candidates in Florida. The E-PAC, led by New York Republican Elise Stefaniak, announced the first 11 “Rising Stars” this week.
Among those earning the full endorsement was Maria Elvira Salazar, who is challenging Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala and Amanda Makki, who is one of the multiple candidates running against Crist.
“E-PAC’s mission is to recruit and support a formidable group of Republican women running for Congress in 2020, and these candidates have demonstrated their strength early on in their races,” Stefanik said in announcing the list. “I worked with each of these candidates to ensure they are building strong, competitive campaigns, and I’m proud to endorse them today.”
Toppling either candidate will be a heavy lift. Both races fall into the “Likely Democratic” or “Solid Democratic” category by the leading political handicappers.
Ballard touts D.C. team
Florida-based super-lobbyist Brian Ballard has long been successful in his home state, but there are reasons for the quick rise of his D.C. firm. He admits being affiliated with Trump does not hurt, but points to his team’s constant working of the process pays off in the long run.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Ballard talked about success breeding success. He said a big key is having a diverse, bipartisan stable of lobbyists that produces success for one client, leading to word-of-mouth marketing.
“That’s how we’ve grown, and again, you know, we’re active politically,” he said. “I mean, Robert Wexler is active. [Jamie] Rubin‘s active; [Pam] Bondi‘s active; I’m active. But it’s more about the ability to solve problems than it is who’s in power at a certain time.”
He was asked about the controversies surrounding officials and foreign visitors, including Ballard clients, staying at Trump properties when they visit the U.S. Does his firm urge them to stay at Trump hotels?
“I think that is the biggest load of crap that I’ve heard since I’ve been here,” he said. “The whole stuff about the hotel and all the rest is the most silly and not real … I’ve never advised a client where to stay since I’ve been here.”
Ballard was asked whether there was any client to which he said “no.” One that is frequently in the news came to mind.
“The whole China Huawei thing,” he responded, referring to the controversial Chinese telecom giant. Clarifying the company itself did not contact his firm, there have been “five different iterations of folks trying to get us involved in that, and we’ve said no.”
On this day
Oct. 25, 1983 — In a move that surprised the world, U.S. troops invaded the Caribbean island country of Grenada, taking several Cuban soldiers prisoner. While President Ronald Reagan was thought to be playing golf in Augusta, Georgia., he was instead making final plans for launching the attack after Communist forces in control executed Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.
Reagan did not seek approval from Congress, saying American lives were in danger, and the military had to move quickly. Among those criticizing the President’s action was Democratic Sen. Lawton Chiles, who said, “Are we looking for a war we can win?”
Oct. 25, 2002 — Just days before the midterm elections, Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone from Minnesota was killed in an airplane crash in the northern portion of the state as he was flying to attend a funeral. Killed along with him was his wife, Sheila and their daughter, Marcia, along with eight others.
Wellstone’s opponent, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, suspended his campaign. The Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) party was forced to immediately begin seeking a candidate to replace Wellstone on the ballot. Former Vice President Walter Mondale topped the list of potentials.