Nationals bring fleeting unity
Bipartisanship has broken out in Washington, D.C. Republicans and Democrats are locking arms and shouting their support after reaching a common goal.
Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with legislating. Much of Washington, except for the Texas delegation, is celebrating after the Washington Nationals won their first World Series and bringing the championship back to the capital for the first time since the Washington Senators won their only title in 1924.
The occupant of the White House at that time was Calvin Coolidge, who carried the nickname “Silent Cal.” Nearly a century later, current President Donald Trump, who was booed lustily before Game 5, is called many things, but none have the word “silent” in front of them.
Trump’s strongest supporters and his most committed detractors are far from quiet as well. A case can be made that the Florida delegation contains his strongest Congressional backer in Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, as well as one who may loathe him the most in Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Both played their roles this week.
During Game 5 of the World Series at Nationals Park, Trump had an entourage that included some of his most prominent defenders. Gaetz was among the few elected officials in the skybox.
Earlier this week, Gaetz again demonstrated that support by filing an ethics complaint against Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. The complaint was presented to the House Ethics Committee, chaired by Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.
In the complaint, he accuses Schiff of violating House rules with his “parody” of Trump committing impeachable acts, as well as Schiff denying Gaetz and his colleagues’ admission to a recent deposition in a secure facility.
“Chairman Schiff has abused his authority and seems to believe that the rules of the House of Representatives do not apply to him,” Gaetz said. “We cannot have a multi-tiered justice system in the United States or Congress. His egregious behavior must change immediately.”
On the other side, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform had Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, before them, which led to a well-publicized tangle with Wasserman Schultz.
“You and Mr. Trump don’t want anyone who looks or talks differently than Caucasian Americans to be allowed into this country,” she said as part of an opening statement.
After Cuccinelli interrupted to defend both himself and Trump, she continued the attack.
“You want to block all immigration and make life harder for immigrants, and you have demonstrated that you will pursue this heinous white supremacist ideology at all costs, even if it means making critically ill children your collateral damage in the process.”
The hearing was about a proposed Trump administration policy that would deny green cards to migrants who would seek medical care and public benefits.
The actions and words of Wasserman Schultz and Gaetz show how important Florida will be in the 2020 election. Gaetz represents a deep red area that will be needed to turn out in large numbers to help offset some of the considerable advantage held by Wasserman Schultz’s deep blue region in Broward County.
Impeachment and immigration will be front and center.
Rubio backs NLRB reform
Conservatives have frequently criticized the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as too often siding against American businesses. In response, six Republican Senators, including Sen. Marco Rubio, reintroduced the Protecting American Jobs Act this week.
The NLRB, an independent federal agency consisting of five political appointees, was established to carry out the National Labor Relations Act and protect the interests of working people. Rubio, and the bill’s sponsor, Utah Republican Mike Lee, argue the NLRB “has operated under lengthy and bureaucratic procedures, and introduced uncertainty and instability as its rules and decisions change dramatically under shifting political pressures.”
According to Lee, the bill would transfer the power to hear labor disputes back to federal courts. The NLRB would retain the power to conduct investigations, but would not be allowed to prosecute them.
“For far too long the NLRB has acted as judge, jury, and executioner, for labor disputes in this country,” Sen. Lee said. “The havoc they have wrought by upsetting decades of established labor law has cost countless jobs. This common-sense legislation would finally restore fairness and accountability to our nation’s labor laws.”
Rubio’s office said: “The Protecting American Jobs Act would introduce greater stability and fairness into our process for resolving labor disputes.”
Other co-sponsors include Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Scott co-sponsors sanctions
Impeachment activities have recently moved the struggle in Hong Kong toward the back burner, but a new Senate resolution seeks to remind Americans of the hardships faced by protesters. Sen. Rick Scott has signed on to a resolution calling for sanctions on Hong Kong or Chinese officials who stifle the free speech of the protesters.
Scott is joining with Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and John Cornyn of Texas to introduce the Hong Kong Be Water Act. In addition to the sanctions, the legislation condemns the Chinese government for violating terms of the 1984 agreement with Great Britain that ceded control of Hong Kong.
Scott recalled the stories of intimidation and brutality visited upon protesters by Hong Kong police and those doing the bidding of the Chinese government.
“As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue,” Scott said. “I’m proud to sponsor the Hong Kong Be Water Act as we stand with the brave Hong Kongers fighting for freedom and basic human rights that are being suppressed by Communist China.”
He has been a persistent critic of China’s role in trying to quell the uprisings that have continued for months. Last week he joined with a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues to introduce a bill designed to stop the export of munitions to the Hong Kong police force.
GOP blasts process vote
It did not take long for several members of the Florida delegation to weigh in on the House vote on a resolution authorizing the impeachment inquiry process. The reactions to the 232-196 vote, which promised a more open and balanced process, fell mostly along partisan lines.
Republican Reps. Neal Dunn of Panama City and Daniel Webster of Clermont described “Soviet-style” proceedings. On the other hand, Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach described “a methodical, thorough and factual investigation,” while Deutch said the House has “conducted this impeachment inquiry responsibly and methodically.”
None from the delegation broke ranks with their party. Still, the comments from Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples were noteworthy for their lack of partisan edge. Murphy is the co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, while Rooney has offered support for looking into some of the things Democrats are doing.
Most Republicans criticize the process as secretive and one that denies Trump due process rights. Murphy, who has broken with Democratic leadership on some issues and could do so again soon, said she voted for a process that is “as open, fair, and transparent as possible.”
Republicans have also claimed Schiff is running an “unprecedented” investigation that will not allow them to subpoena witnesses and prevented them from asking questions to those that have appeared.
Rooney, who has attended the proceedings, claimed the process has been “fair to the participants” and has allowed Republicans to ask questions “except for one day which was unfortunately restricted.” He added passage of the resolution will lead to an “improvement” in the process, but it is “still less open to having all sides represented than prior impeachments.”
Democrats indicated a few more closed-door depositions would come next before the public hearings called for in the resolution will begin.
House: It was ‘genocide’
Relations with Turkey, already strained with its recent invasion into northern Syria, took another hit this week when the House voted on a resolution to impose sanctions and condemn a century-old atrocity.
In addition to the sanctions vote, which passed by overwhelming margins, the House also declared the killing of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915-1923 by the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide.
“Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala tweeted:
#HR296 is long overdue. My grandparents fled the Ottoman empire to escape this genocide.
I remember my grandmother’s tears as she spoke of her Armenian friends who were slaughtered.
As I child I could not erase those tears, but for them I proudly supported this resolution.
— Rep. Donna E. Shalala (@RepShalala) October 29, 2019
Frankel recalled a ceremony five years ago honoring those who perished. In a tweet, she said, “Through education & accountability, we can pursue justice for the victims & prevent future atrocities.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government lashed out following the vote, summoning the U.S. ambassador to explain the House’s action and undoubtedly be forced to listen to diplomatic outrage. Turkey has admitted to large-scale killings but has always fought the “genocide” terminology.
“While the facts may be embarrassing or inconvenient for the Republic of Turkey, continued denial of the Armenian Genocide is incorrect, illegitimate, and an affront to the Armenian people,” said Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg in a statement. “As a proud co-sponsor of this resolution, I commend the People’s House for speaking with forceful moral clarity on this issue.”
All 27 members of the delegation voted for the sanctions and the genocide designation.
Protection for Kurdish allies
The U.S. had a great deal of assistance when it came to fighting ISIS in Syria. To help Kurdish fighters who fought many battles against ISIS, Rep. Michael Waltz has introduced legislation to make that happen.
The Syrian Partner Protection Act looks to extend the Special Immigrant Visa program to Syrian Kurdish fighters. Currently, the program only includes Afghani and Iraqi workers who were employed on behalf of the U.S. government.
“The Syrian Kurds have stood side by side with the United States in the fight against ISIS,” the St. Augustine Republican said. “As a special forces officer, working with allies and fostering those relationships was critical to mission success.”
The bill replicates similar programs enacted during the Bush administration for Iraqi and Afghan translators, interpreters, soldiers, advisers and other workers whose lives were threatened because of their working relationship with the U.S. The legislation is sponsored by Colorado Democrat Jason Crow, with Waltz serving as the original co-sponsor.
Waltz has firsthand experience working with local allies as a Green Beret. Years after his service, Waltz’s Afghan interpreter was followed home from a U.S. military base where he and his family were subsequently beheaded by terrorists for working with U.S. forces.
Election security funding sought
Many in Congress, as well as officials throughout the 50 states, are concerned that the clock is ticking when it comes to hardening election infrastructure before the 2020 elections. Murphy and the Blue Dog Coalition she co-chairs are expressing their concern.
In a letter signed by Murphy and five other Blue Dog co-chairs, the coalition is asking congressional leaders to insist that local elections officials across the nation take another critical step. They are urging officials to rid themselves of the direct-vote electronic machines and replace them with paper-based ballots like ones used in Florida.
The letter went to the leaders of both the House and Senate appropriations committees. They ask for the final version of pending legislation include $600 million in security funding as proposed by the House. The Senate version calls for $250 million.
“We further request that you include language requiring grantees to use this federal funding to replace direct-recording electronic voting machines with voting systems that require the use of a voter-verified paper ballot,” they wrote, “as well as to address cyber vulnerabilities in election systems, provide election officials with cybersecurity training, institute election system cybersecurity best practices, and make other improvements to the security of federal elections.” the letter says.
The threat of the world’s most notorious election meddler, as well as others seeking to cause mischief, was clearly on the minds of Murphy and the other signees and proof of why maximum funding is required.
“In light of the proven threat posed by Russia — and possibly other foreign powers — to our democratic process, we believe the final bill should provide $600 million or as close to it as possible.” the letter concludes.
Since the FBI finally confirmed Florida elections systems were breached in 2016, Murphy and Waltz have jointly sought greater protections against intrusions. They have co-sponsored legislation that would require notification of state and local authorities immediately after a breach is detected.
Two Crist bills pass
It was a busy week for Crist. The St. Petersburg Democrat saw two of his sponsored bills pass the House.
Earlier this week, the House voted unanimously to reauthorize the Older Americans Act by passing the Dignity in Aging Act of 2019. Included within the bill was Crist’s Building Age-Friendly Communities Act, which helps build age-friendly communities that support seniors who age in place.
In another voice vote, the House passed the Veteran Treatment Court Court Coordination Act of 2019. This bill, with New York Republican Elise Stefanik serving as primary co-sponsor, is directed toward veterans who find themselves in the criminal justice system by creating a new office at the Department of Justice responsible for providing grants and assistance to strengthen and expand state and local veteran treatment court programs across the country.
“With this legislation, we will expand and bolster existing veterans courts, while helping communities without one set up their own,” Crist said in a news release. “And with House passage, we are one step closer to this important legislation becoming law. I look forward to supporting efforts to pass a companion bill in the Senate in the coming months.”
As more and more of our residents choose to age in place, government at all levels must be up to the task of building and supporting age-friendly communities,” Crist said in a news release. “Today, I’m proud to have secured this win for Pinellas seniors and seniors everywhere. Seniors deserve the option of living out their golden years in the place they call home.”
The bill is endorsed by nearly two dozen military-related organizations and was co-sponsored by 22 bipartisan members of the delegation.
Daylight saving bills lag
Early Sunday morning, the semiannual ritual of adjusting clocks for Daylight Saving Time (DST) will repeat itself. “Spring forward” and “fall back” are part of most Americans’ lives, but Floridians have been part of the effort to make DST permanent.
Rubio introduced the Sunshine Protection Act in March, which was quickly co-sponsored by Scott along with three other Senators. During his last year as Gov., Scott signed legislation declaring year-round observance of DST, subject to federal authorization.
On the same day as Rubio introduced his bill, Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan introduced the House companion bill. Co-sponsors of that legislation include Democrats Alcee Hastings and Darren Soto along with Republicans Rooney, Greg Steube, Michael Waltz and Bill Posey.
“We need to end this antiquated practice,” Buchanan said earlier this week while seeking support for his bill. “There are enormous health and economic benefits to making daylight saving time permanent.”
Buchanan listed the results of several studies that point to fewer automobile crashes during longer daylight hours, along with fewer robberies, less obesity and reduction in energy usage.
According to Buchanan, Trump has indicated he would sign the bill if passed. In the meantime, “spring forward” is set for March 8.
Buchanan secures grant for Selah
Buchanan has frequently leaned on the expertise at Selah Freedom when it comes to sex trafficking issues. Now, he’s announced the Sarasota-based nonprofit will get $750,000 in new federal funding.
“Human trafficking is a vile and monstrous crime against women and children,” Buchanan said. “This funding will be especially impactful in a state like Florida, a hub for human trafficking. I will continue to work with organizations like Selah Freedom to end this vile form of modern-day slavery.”
Elizabeth Fisher, the founder of the organization, said the funding remains critical as the number of women rescued and now receiving services has tripled annually. That shows the Suncoast remains a hotbed of such sex slavery.
Buchanan has worked with Hastings on legislation, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act, that would budget grants through the Office of Trafficking in Persons to be used for education and training for school officials to spot warning signs of grooming and trafficking. The two lawmakers, who co-chair the Florida Delegation, also held a special meeting in Washington, D.C. earlier this year on trafficking, with Selah providing testimony.
Steube introduces TIPS bill
The failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to pass along tips that might have prevented the 2018 Parkland massacre gained widespread attention as more facts became known. The reluctance of the bureau to provide more information on the breakdown led calls for legislation.
This week, Steube filed the Threat Information Protocol for Sharing (TIPS) Act that requires timely information sharing between law enforcement agencies to increase the effectiveness of threat detection and crime prevention. California Democrat Gil Cisneros joined Steube in announcing the legislation.
“This bill will ensure that threat-related information is disseminated to appropriate law enforcement agencies so that actionable intelligence is not lost in the system,” The Sarasota Republican said in a joint release. “Passing this legislation will have a meaningful impact on curbing violence and thwarting future plots in our country.”
This bill will mandate the information-sharing of all state-specific information received through the FBI’s national tip line and online tip reporting website. The FBI will be required to submit monthly reports of all information collected about individuals and threats to the appropriate state law enforcement agency.
It also adds additional accountability and oversight for the FBI’s national tip line operations by directing 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. The FBI will also be required to annually report the number of criminal events associated with tips and their investigative action based on these tips.
Among those joining as original co-sponsors are Republican Reps. Gaetz, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
The bill is a companion to similar legislation that was filed in the Senate by Scott.
Deutch bill moves forward
Recent events have kept a spotlight on the Middle East with the U.S. continually evaluating which countries are allies. There appears little doubt that Jordan falls into the “ally” category.
This week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Deutch that reauthorizes a defense agreement approved in 2015. The United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act extends the original legislation and creates a Jordanian investment fund to support its economy by providing economic opportunities to its private sector.
“Jordan is a pivotal partner for the United States in the region, particularly in the fight against terrorist groups like the Islamic State,” Deutch said in a joint release. “As it defends itself from security threats and responds to the humanitarian crisis on its border in Syria, the United States must remain committed to supporting our ally Jordan. In addition to Jordan’s security needs, this bill creates a new mechanism for supporting the Jordanian people economically.”
The bill refers to “no less than $1.275 billion per year, subject to congressional appropriations” in assistance.
Deutch is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism. The bill’s co-sponsor is South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson.
Diaz-Balart co-sponsors worker bill
Immigration reform advocates from both parties have often spoken of the undocumented workers who work for fruit and vegetable farmers. Former President George W. Bush pushed for a guest worker program as part of his failed attempt to spur Congressional action.
A new effort is underway with support from Democrats and Republicans. California Democrat Zoe Lofgren and Diaz-Balart have introduced a bill that would provide a pathway to legal status for those farmworkers, their spouses and minor children.
“The success of our farmers, growers and producers is essential not only for our economy but for our national security,” said Diaz-Balart “For far too long, we’ve suffered from a broken H2A visa system, making it difficult for farmers to hire the workforce necessary to provide to the American people.”
The bill would allow foreign agricultural workers who’ve worked in the sector for at least 180 days over the past two years to request five-year visas for themselves, their spouses and their minor children. The bill would also allow a path to legal permanent status — which itself grants a path to citizenship — for previously-undocumented agricultural workers who pay a $1,000 fine.
It would also simplify the existing H-2A program for visiting guest workers ineligible for the new program. Another provision calls for making the E-Verify program universal and compulsory for all agricultural work nationwide.
The White House is reportedly unlikely to support the effort.
Rubio, Murphy, Díaz-Balart push Puerto Rican student English money
Rubio, Murphy, and Díaz-Balart of Miami introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to make sure stateside school districts absorbing Puerto Rican students have a fair amount of money for English language instruction.
They noted that states such as Florida and Connecticut had received huge numbers of Puerto Rican migrants, and their schools are reflecting that with significant increases in enrollments of Puerto Rican students, many of whom speak primarily Spanish.
The bill would increase the amount of federal English Language Acquisition funding that Florida and Connecticut — and certain other states — receive each year by fixing a flaw in the current funding formula that does not adequately account for the number of students that have migrated from Puerto Rico.
“This bill is personal for me because I grew up in a household where my parents spoke only Vietnamese and I learned English in school. I know firsthand how important it is for young people in this country to become proficient in English. It opens doors of opportunity that would otherwise remain shut,” Murphy stated.
The Florida lawmakers were joined by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who helped introduce the Senate version.
“I am proud to introduce the ELEVATE Act with Sen. Murphy in order to correct the Department of Education’s flawed funding formula that fails to fully capture the number of K-12 students who relocate to a mainland state from Puerto Rico,” Rubio stated. “This bill will allow Puerto Rican students to be fully counted in the annual grant allocation that states receive under the English Language Acquisition grant program.”
“The ELEVATE Act is a big win for Miami-Dade County, as they receive more English Language Acquisition funding than any other county in Florida,” Diaz-Balart stated. “This bill ensures that states and schools receive the necessary means to provide high-quality English education to the students who relocate from Puerto Rico, who were not previously accounted for in the Department of Education’s formula. I’m proud to work with Rep. Stephanie Murphy on the House version of this legislation, and I look forward to the positive impact this will have in my community.”
Homestead contract not renewed
The unaccompanied migrant children housed in the privately-run Homestead detention facility were moved to other locations weeks ago, but the facility technically remained opened. With the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) not to renew the contract of Caliburn, the facility’s operator, it is now effectively closed.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell was recently notified of the decision by HHS. Mucarsel-Powell and fellow Democrats Wasserman-Schultz and Shalala were the most ardent critics of the circumstances surrounding the facility and its operation.
“The pressure that Congress and I — and our Homestead community — put on the administration worked,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement earlier this week. “Caliburn will no longer receive millions of dollars to operate an empty facility. The taxpayer should never have been footing the bill for the result of inhumane immigration policies.”
The government’s contract with Caliburn expires on November 30. The facility will remain in what is called “warm status,” which means HHS will retain access and could reopen the facility if necessary.
According to HHS, 14,300 children were housed at the facility during the 18 months it remained open from March 2018, until August 2019. It was also open during the Obama administration, housing 8,500 children between June 2016 until April 2017.
Mucarsel-Powell said the book is not closed yet.
“I will now set my sights on closing the site altogether because no one, especially children, should ever be held in these conditions,” the first-term Democrat said.
On this day
November 1, 1950 — Two Puerto Rican revolutionaries shot their way to the doorstep of Blair House, where President Harry S. Truman was napping before they were stopped by the Secret Service and White House police. The President’s bodyguards killed Griselio Torresola and wounded his accomplice, Oscar Collazo. Policeman Leslie Coffelt was also killed.
Republican Sen. Owen Brewster of Maine has pledged to open an investigation into why the FBI had not learned of the plot. The attack was the first conspiracy since the 1865 attempt to wipe out the leadership of the federal government, which succeeded in killing President Abraham Lincoln.
November 1, 2008 — Three days before election day, Florida is still a tossup between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. An Obama victory would likely be a boost for those who got behind his candidacy early, including Rep. Rob Wexler, who would become a key Obama ally on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
With polls showing Obama with a small, but steady lead, Republicans may be looking at changes in their Congressional leadership if they see their ranks further reduced. Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow hinted at a leadership change if Democrats make further gains saying, “elections have consequences.” Putnam is the third-highest ranking House Republican.