Raid earns broad support
President Donald Trump’s tweets are not known for their brevity. They also often contain his side on an issue or a barb directed toward an opponent.
Those on Twitter at 6:34 p.m. Saturday perhaps saw the message: “Something very big has just happened!” His critics responded with hopes that it meant he was resigning, or worse, while Trump supporters responded to those attacks with taunts of their own.
By Sunday morning, Americans knew this was about the demise of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. His Sunday morning appearance at the White House made it official but set off another small round of partisan politics, but the overall response was supportive.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park tweeted:
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was responsible for the death of many innocent people, including Americans. Grateful to the brave U.S. and allied service members and intelligence professionals who delivered justice to this terrorist leader. https://t.co/mPwu5w5ISB
— Rep. Stephanie Murphy (@RepStephMurphy) October 27, 2019
In another tweet, Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables said, “Thank you to the brave men and women in America’s armed forces who risked their lives to carry out this mission.”
Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton offered “enormous thanks” to those who planned and carried out the operation. Republican Sen. Rick Scott said, “Today the world is a little safer, a little kinder, a little more free.”
Among other Republicans weighing in was Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville who said:
Congratulations @realDonaldTrump and thank you to the brave service members who risked their lives to take down the world’s most wanted terrorist. The death of al-Baghdadi marks a new chapter in the global fight against ISIS. Today is a great day for America! 🇺🇸 https://t.co/U25V3xxOxe
— Rep. John Rutherford (@RepRutherfordFL) October 27, 2019
Rep. Matt Gaetz said, “I commend President Donald Trump today and the courageous men and women of the United States military who carried out this mission.”
During Trump’s remarks, he mentioned four Americans horrifically murdered by al-Baghdadi and ISIS. In a tweet, Sen. Marco Rubio followed up, saying: “In particular, I am thinking of our friends @artsotloff & Shirley Sotloff whose son Steven was brutally murdered by #ISIS killers.”
Trump also revealed those countries who were informed that something was happening to prevent American forces from being fired upon. Those included Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and to some extent, the Kurds.
Congressional leaders were kept in the dark. Democrats were not quick to seek a microphone to complain, but in a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Trump for “telling the Russians but not top Congressional leadership.”
Some in the media expressed far more public concern, including Fox’s Chris Wallace, who grilled Vice President Mike Pence on the decision to keep Pelosi and Congress out of the loop.
A controversy erupted over the Situation Room photo released by the White House. Pete Souza, the White House photographer during the Obama years, questioned whether the raid was still going on when the photo was snapped.
Trump may have been playing golf when the raid began, but the timeline of the operation seemed to confirm Trump was in the room when the photo was taken. A subsequent tweet from Souza showed him backing away from his earlier claim the photo was “staged.”
As Congress returns to Capitol Hill, the extermination of the leader of the world’s most brutal terror group will quickly give way to investigations and legislative gridlock. As the famous insurance commercial says, “It’s what you do.”
Senators: No China investment
Another developing issue between the U.S. and China is investment in the latter. The retirement savings vehicle for federal employees and the military is poised to invest heavily in Chinese companies, bringing out a warning from the Trump administration and elected officials that include Rubio.
The Thrift Savings Plan also holds retirement funds for federal lawmakers and White House officials. Beginning next year, the fund is scheduled to switch to a different mix of investments that would increase its exposure to China and other emerging markets.
“Should the retirement funds of federal employees be used to capitalize on companies in #China that violate human rights & steal U.S. secrets?” Rubio asked via Twitter. “The answer is no! Think of the leverage this gives Beijing over government employees now & when they retire.”
Last week, Rubio joined with New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to send a letter to Chairman Michael Kennedy of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, asking the board to reverse a previous decision.
That decision called for investing in a fund that contains multiple companies “that assist in the Chinese government’s military activities, espionage and human rights abuses, as well as many other Chinese companies that lack basic financial transparency.”
“It is our responsibility to these public servants to ensure that the investment of their retirement savings does not undermine the American interests for which they serve,” they wrote.
Scott was among four other Senators signing on to the letter.
Impeachment next step
On Monday, Pelosi revealed the House would take the next step by taking a formal vote to legitimize the impeachment process fully. She indicated the vote would come Thursday.
Republicans have consistently hammered Democrats for a process that has taken depositions in a secure facility. The issue came to a head last week when about three dozen House Republicans that included Gaetz, St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz and Dover Republican Ross Spano, entered the room while a deposition was ongoing.
“This is a resolution on how to proceed in the committee,” Pelosi said. “This resolution gives us more opportunity in the committee, spells out protection of the rights for the President and his counsel. They should welcome this.”
Pelosi also sought to undercut a White House strategy of denying documents and not allowing administration officials to appear. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff pledged future hearings would be public.
“We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democrats Monday.
Too little, too late say Republicans. Gaetz, who led the march into the secure room, used a football term to describe Pelosi’s action.
“I think that Nancy Pelosi is not someone who usually calls audibles, and the fact that she’s calling an audible here, adopting as her message for the week something that she referred to just weeks ago as a Republican talking point, indicates that they were feeling the heat,” he said.
Senate climate caucus
Almost four years after Deutch and then-Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Kendall, established the House Climate Solutions Caucus, the Senate has launched its own. Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons will lead the effort.
Coons and Braun will serve as co-chairs and seek to grow the membership from both sides of the aisle. Deutch was pleased to have climate change soulmates in the Senate.
“I’m proud that in the House we’ve brought Democrats and Republicans together for substantive discussions on climate change and developed legislative approaches to this growing threat,” Deutch said in a statement. “Now, I’m grateful to have Senator Coons and Sen. Braun as partners as we work together to confront this crisis.”
It remains to be seen whether Rubio and Scott will consider joining the caucus. Rubio has long acknowledged the climate is changing but has expressed skepticism on the impact of man’s role and calls for adaptive solutions to the changes.
When Scott was Governor, state agencies were reportedly told not to use the words “climate change,” but he now acknowledges its existence. In a February op-ed, Scott railed on the Green New Deal, but also said climate change is ”real and requires real solutions.”
In addition to House caucus co-chairs Deutch and Naples Republican Francis Rooney, other delegation members include Democrats Murphy and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. Republican members include Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, Brian Mast of Palm City and Bill Posey of Rockledge.
More than 28 years after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was narrowly confirmed to the court, the issue is set to return to the forefront. The University of Florida Levin School of Law recently announced Thomas would teach a compressed course on the First Amendment next spring, quickly drawing complaints from students and a response from the law school dean.
“We are a diverse law school, and our students, faculty and staff care deeply about a range of issues,” said Dean Laura Rosenbury. “We encourage all of our students to become effective advocates, whether through student groups or other means.”
Thomas had been mainly in the background until Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the court. Both were confirmed despite allegations of sexual improprieties.
The presence of Thomas on campus just a few months before the 2020 elections is sure to draw national attention, especially if former Vice President Joe Biden is the nominee. Thomas’s accuser, Anita Hill, said last week she is “ready to hold Joe Biden accountable” for his role.
Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Thomas confirmation hearings. Hill claims Biden would not call witnesses who could have corroborated her accusations against Thomas.
Trump gets Hillary treatment
The 2019 World Series concludes this week, but before it returned to Houston, Trump made an appearance at Game 5 at Nationals’ Park in Washington. The current and former holder of Florida’s 1st Congressional District seat was involved with that visit for vastly different reasons.
Those watching on television saw Gaetz among Trump’s entourage sitting in the luxury box. For those who did not see it, Gaetz was quick to tweet a selfie with the description, “Seats aren’t bad.”
When Trump was shown on the stadium’s video board, many fans booed and started the chant “lock him up.” This prompted the former holder of the CD 1 seat, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, to criticize the reaction.
“We are Americans, and we do not do that,” he said on his program Morning Joe. “We do not want the world hearing us chant ‘Lock him up’ to this president or any president.”
That was not a popular stance as thousands reacted negatively to Scarborough’s admonition. Co-host Mika Brzezinski, Scarborough’s wife, interjected that she finds it “sickening” when Trump supporters chant “lock her up” when Hillary Clinton’s name comes up.
Scarborough agreed, but that did not stop “SorryJoe” from trending.
The night did not go well for Nationals’ fans either as their team was routed by Houston Astros, 7-1.
Controlling SSDI costs
Long the long-term health of the Social Security retirement program, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program trust fund also faces an uncertain future. To buffer and amend its capabilities, Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho has introduced the Making D.I. Work for All Americans Act.
The bill would amend title II of the Social Security Act, which would set a flat monthly benefit for anyone who first applies for the program and would also eliminate the compensation attorneys receive from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The compensation would instead be worked out between recipients and their attorneys themselves.
“According to an annual report on the health of the SSDI trust fund, the trustees concluded that the fund would be exhausted by 2054,” Yoho said in a news release. “Many Americans rely on this important program, and Congress must take action now to strengthen this program and ensure that it remains solvent for generations to come.”
Additionally, the bill updates the medical-vocational guidelines from 1979 to ensure applicants who want to return to work can be matched with a job. It also increases transparency and accountability by allowing SSA to consider social media activity when making a disability determination.
Rubio, Soto hail DoD Kissimmee deal
The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a $20 million contract to BRIDG, the publicly-supported high-tech manufacturing center in Kissimmee, bringing praise from two of the deal’s big proponents, Rubio and Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee.
Specifically, the defense contract is for the development of silicon imposer and advanced integration and packaging technologies.
“I’m proud to have worked in a bipartisan manner with Sen. Rubio to support BRIDG and their efforts to achieve federal recognition for their advanced microelectronics work,” Soto said. “This contract will strengthen our national security and continue to bring high-tech jobs home to Central Florida.”
Offered Rubio: “In order to retain the leading edge for our warfighters, we must take the necessary steps to increase domestic development and manufacturing capacity for critical emerging technologies. BRIDG is very well positioned to provide the Defense Department with this critical, next-generation technology that will strengthen national security and cyber resiliency for the United States defense industrial base.”
Murphy touts FEMA reimbursements
There are still parts of Florida that continue to recover physically and financially from hurricanes over the past two to three years. Some Central Florida communities were still in the recovery mode from Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Murphy recently announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sending $17.5 million to Central Florida for reimbursements regarding damages caused by Irma. Seminole County and the City of Orlando are the primary benefactors of the funds.
“As we know, Florida is often in the path of potentially devastating storms that can cause severe damage and destruction,” the Winter Park Democrat said. “But our local governments can’t fully prepare for the next storm if they are not quickly reimbursed for the funds they’ve used to provide a robust and timely response.”
The funds are being provided under FEMA’s Public assistance program, a reimbursement program that provides federal funding to help communities respond to and recover from major disasters. The grant will cover between 90 and 100 percent of the costs incurred by the local government.
Seminole County will receive $14.5 million while Orlando is set to receive $3 million.
Age-friendly communities sought
Florida is long-known as a destination for seniors seeking the right financial and environmental climate for their retirement years. With that in mind, Crist joined with Kansas Republican Steve Watkins to introduce the “Building Age-Friendly Communities Act.”
According to Crist’s office, the bill is designed to refocus aspects of the Older Americans Act of 1965 to help seniors age in place so that they may live longer and more fulfilling lives. Specifically, it would refocus federal efforts supporting aging-at-home and the services that facilitate better health and social and civic participation.
“More and more of America’s aging population prefer to age in place, but federal programs have not kept up,” Crist said in a news release. “Our bill refocuses those efforts, boosting policies that make communities more age-friendly, providing seniors better access to care and services in order to live their best lives.”
Crist and Watkins maintain age-friendly communities that offer their residents accessible public transportation with frequent schedules and flexible routes. Also, the bill would promote hazard-free streets and sidewalks to allow for walkability along with safe places and programs for leisure activities such as parks and community centers.
Earlier this week, the bill was included in the Dignity in Aging Act of 2019.
Steube: ratify USMCA
Among the issues languishing in Congress is the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Republicans are attempting to increase the pressure to get something done, but Democrats say their concerns must be addressed.
Among those trying to bring awareness to the stalemate is Sarasota Republican Greg Steube. He recently made a case for the deal on the House floor.
“Approving USMCA will ease the uncertainty facing Florida farmers and ranchers, allowing them to make new investments to grow operations,” he said. “This deal is a good deal for Florida and America, and it’s time the majority bring this important measure to the floor.”
Democrats have said they are committed to working toward approval but need their concerns over labor, climate and enforcement to be addressed first. Democrats say they are making progress.
Republicans expressed concern that if the agreement is not approved soon, it may have to wait until next year. The concern would deepen if it slipped into a presidential election year.
Election security bill introduced
The Muller report exposed several ways foreign entities attempt to influence U.S. elections. Other ways could come from equipment produced in countries other than this country.
A bill in Congress that would place multiple restrictions on foreign-controlled companies providing election services or equipment was recently introduced. New Jersey Democrat Jefferson Van Drew sponsors the legislation with Steube among the eight co-sponsors.
“Ensuring the security of our elections is essential to our democracy,” Steube said in a joint release. “I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation that will protect the integrity of our elections for generations to come.”
The Protect Our Elections Act requires companies that provide elections services to report any foreign national who owns or controls their firm to relevant government agencies and to notify those same agencies of any material change in ownership or control.
It also prohibits foreign ownership and control of elections systems and requires state and local governments to conduct an annual evaluation of their election service providers to ensure that each election service provider is solely owned and controlled by U.S. persons. Exceptions are provided for Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Return authority to Congress
The issue of a President sending troops or weapons into harm’s way without the approval of Congress has confronted multiple administrations and Congressional leaders of both parties. Mast seeks to move Congress toward returning to its constitutional role of deciding when the U.S. goes to war.
In a letter to New York Democrat Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mast told Engel that both Democrats and Republicans agree that addressing the issue is “long overdue.” Mast is requesting the formation of a bipartisan working group to work on the issue.
Mast reminded Engel that the chairman “stated you would be ‘delighted’ to work with me on this issue,” he wrote. “I appreciate this commitment to work together.”
At issue is the formal requirements for taking military action under what is known as the Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF).
“For too long, Congress has avoided establishing an Authorized Use of Military Force to define our military objectives overseas,” Mast said in a tweet. I’m calling on the Foreign Affairs Committee to work together to ensure American troops are able to do their job as safely as possible.”
Pittsburgh synagogue victims remembered
Over the weekend, Pittsburgh residents and Americans around the country remembered the 11 victims of the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Steps other than gun control have been taken since, but some within the delegation took time to remember.
Deutch with the other co-chairs of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism stated on behalf of the membership.
“It is with the deepest sorrow that we mark the anniversary of the anti-Semitic massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue building in Pittsburgh,” they said. “In this attack, we lost 11 innocent souls, who were killed simply because they were Jewish.
While security has increased at synagogues and other places of worship, the members seek the freedom to practice their religion without fear.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to white-supremacy and domestic terrorism, nor can we accept a society where Jewish communities need an armed guard at every service,” they concluded.
The statement was among the many around the country offered to remember the victims of the tragedy.
Dems debate Rx costs
Lowering the costs of prescription drugs is a concept agreed upon by Trump and Congressional Democrats. Some disagreement among House Democrats came to the forefront last week, but in the end, a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices took the next step.
POLITICO reported a tense Democratic caucus meeting when the discussion turned to the Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019. The progressive wing of the caucus was seeking a comprehensive bill while moderates advocated for something that had a chance to pass the Republican-led Senate.
After several amendments were added and some defeated during an Energy and Commerce Committee markup, the bill advanced by a partisan 30-22 vote.
“This monumental legislation will finally end the ban on Medicare negotiating drug prices!” Kissimmee Democrat and committee member Darren Soto said in an email to constituents.
Last weekend’s Democratic weekly address featured Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala, who was enthused about the bill’s passage.
To view the address, click on the image below:
“This bill will expand our capacity for innovation and make drug companies more efficient, Shalala said on the weekly Democratic address. “H.R. 3 is a historic step forward to make all of our lives better.”
Progressives did not seem to be fully satisfied with the product that emerged from the committee. Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz indicated there is still work to do.
“I will continue to improve upon the Lower Drug Costs Now Act because I believe that Americans deserve lower health care costs, and we can make this happen by lowering the price of prescription drugs,” she said in an email to her constituents.
Wasserman Schultz is one of eight co-sponsors from among the delegation. Joining in support of the bill were Soto, Shalala, Crist, Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel, Frederica Wilson and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
On this day
Oct. 29, 1998 — former astronaut and retired Sen. John Glenn made history when he blasted off from Cape Canaveral aboard the shuttle Discovery, 36 years after becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. The 77-year-old Glenn, who flew with six other crew members, easily became the oldest person to fly in space.
Once in orbit, Glenn said, “This is beautiful, I can’t even describe it.” Joining other dignitaries to witness the launch was President Bill Clinton, who said: “It is a great day for America and a great day for our senior citizens.” Other than 36 years, the most significant change for Glenn is his ability to move around the shuttle, unlike his single-seat Project Mercury capsule used in 1962.
Oct. 29, 2015 — Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, the 2012 nominee for Vice President, became Speaker of the House. Ryan garnered 236 votes among his Republican colleagues with Clermont Republican Daniel Webster picking up the other 9.
Webster, a former speaker of the Florida House, said he was glad a new speaker was in place but added, “I had hoped it would be me.” Earlier, 43 of his colleagues placed his name in nomination. Outgoing Speaker John Boehner leaves as an unpopular former speaker, leading Ryan to pledge going forward not to “settle scores. We are wiping the slate clean.”